Court rulings have halted the e-pharmacy market in India – at least until January.
Online sales of medicines are now subject to a blanket ban until clearer regulations are set forth by the Centre, the Madras High Court ordered Monday, December 17th. The Centre has time only until January 31st to issue these guidelines.
The Delhi High Court handed down a similar ruling last week, responding to a public interest litigation (PIL) by Dr Zaheer Ahmed, a Delhi-based dermatologist. Ahmed claimed in his suit that lakhs of medicines are sold online without proper regulation. He adds that patients can avail medicines online without a prescription, putting their lives at risk.
The Madras High Court also refused to vacate the stay on online sales after imposing an interim ban on the sale of medicines online last month.
Consumers will now have to wait until the Centre clears rules on how online pharmacies trade.
Online pharmacies presently account for less than one percent of the pharmaceutical market in India. However, they are projected to become a $3 billion industry by 2024. Already, online sales of medicines total Rs 1.2 lakh crore ($167 million).
A draft set of guidelines regulating e-pharmacies was issued earlier this year. They included requirements for e-pharmacies to register with the Central Drug Standards Control Organisation and licenses from state authorities for drugs the pharmacies sold.
As with any other healthcare industry, proper regulation is essential for the wellbeing of patients. The e-pharmacy industry does need to be regulated. This is especially important as drug resistance fast shapes up to become a public health crisis, both in India and worldwide. Ensuring products such as antibiotics are sold responsibly and on prescription is a particular must when considering this.
New guidelines can expected to be issued on or before January 31st (bar any further court rulings). Once they are set out, this will likely dictate the future of the e-pharmacy market in India – how deeply it is regulated, how stringent the penalties are, the relationship between them and consumers and, by extension, the future growth of the industry.