Over nine lakh (900,000) chemists staged a nationwide strike between midnight of May 29th and midnight of May 30th. The strike was reportedly staged in protest of government regulations regarding the sale of medications, as well as strict limitations on the profit margins made by retailers.
Along with government regulations on sales of medicines, the All-India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists (AIOCD) cited the Union Health Ministry’s plans for the allowance of e-pharmacy as a motivating factor of the strike. Should the policy go forward, online purchase of medicines would be legal.
Such a policy could have disastrous long term consequences, both for pharmacies and patients said A.N. Mohanan, national vice-president of AIOCD and State President of the All-Kerala Chemists and Druggists Association in The Hindu
“Though online purchase of medicine is legal in advanced countries, in our country with low computer literacy and extremely weak regulation of the drug industry, the initiative will have serious consequences for public health,”
Criticisms of the drive for e-pharmacy put forward by Mohanan include the potential for huge job losses for any who currently work as chemists, putting many thousands of jobs on the line. He believes there is potential for poorly regulated medications to flood the market, along with an increased ease of purchasing medications via a fake doctor’s prescription.
The organisers of the protest had put forward an advanced notice to the government, though believed nothing had been done to address their concerns. Despite the efforts of the Health Ministry on the 28th May, the strike went ahead as planned on the 29th. Such a large scale protest saw a huge number of pharmacies closed for the duration. All emergency service pharmacies located in and around hospitals did however remain open. Some cities, such as Chennai, saw up to 70 percent of their pharmacies closed for the day.
Further strikes have not been ruled out, said K K Selvan, general secretary of the Tamil Nadu Chemists and Druggists Association, which is affiliated to the All India Chemists and Druggists Association. Meetings between those heading the groups involved are due to be conducted following the strikes, after which the course of action will be decided. Strikes of up to three days have not been ruled out.
Are chemists doing this for the public’s benefit, or their own? An editorial article published by The Hindu certainly thinks the latter. Chemists have faced falling profits in recent years, losing their market share to the often cheaper e-pharmacies. The strikes, claim The Hindu, are simply a way for the chemists to protect their business interests. E-pharmacies may be a way to improve access to medicines in remote areas of India. Strikes such as these may reduce consumer support for brick and mortar pharmacies and could see their profits fall further.