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Setback to e-pharmacy platforms as govt orders a halt to drug sales

In what could be a big setback for e-pharmacies in India, the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) has ordered a halt to online drug sales across the country.

In a letter dated November 28, DCGI VG Somani has asked all states and union territories not to allow the sale of medicines through unlicensed online platforms till the final draft rules come into effect.

The government is yet to finalise regulations for online drug sales.

The DCGI’s letter, sent to all state drug regulators and to the union health ministry, cited last year’s Delhi High Court order on the matter.

Besides, an official at the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) under the health ministry was quoted in a Mint report confirming that they have issued an order to stop the online sale of medicines.

Last year in December, the Delhi High Court had prohibited online sale of drugs for the time being while hearing a case filed by dermatologist Dr Zaheer Ahmed.

Online pharmacy platforms are tangled in litigation across multiple high courts – Mumbai, Delhi, Madras, Calcutta, and Patna – citing ban on e-pharmacy has not helped the cause.

Over 40 startups, including Netmeds, 1mg and PharmEasy, sell medicines online in India.

However, e-pharmacy platforms continue to sell online and expand their businesses aggressively too after getting a stay order from the Madras High Court in January this year. Currently, e-pharmacy platforms claim to operate through the offline licensed pharmacy.

Over the years, offline traders have alleged deep discounting by e-pharmacy firms and argued that they are promoting easy availability of drugs, which could be misused.

On December 1, the Health Ministry has reportedly revised draft regulation asking online pharmacy platforms to operate only through retailers and the delivery at doorstep facility be extended to brick-and-mortar pharmacies.

As per the earlier proposed rules, only government-registered e-portals could sell medicines and had to retain prescriptions and verify details of patients and doctors.

While the new draft rules are yet to be finalised, the latest order from DCGI is bound to hurt the online pharmacy platforms.

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