The top body of chemists and druggists has shot off a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on the world's largest online retailer entering the online pharmacy space in India, saying e-pharmacies are "illegal" and not allowed under the country's laws.
The All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists (AIOCD), which claims to represent 8.5 lakh chemists, on August 14 wrote to Bezos and his India CEO Amit Agarwal saying the online pharmacy space "has been marred by extreme controversies, court cases, and legal issues in last few years." "We are writing to you as we came to know that www.amazon.in has decided to enter 'online pharmacy' space, probably oblivious to the fact that e-pharmacies are illegal and not recognised by the laws under Drug and Cosmetic Act & Rules," it wrote.
Earlier this month, Amazon launched an online pharmacy in Bengaluru. Amazon Pharmacy has started accepting orders for both over-the-counter and prescription-based medicines and is also selling traditional herbal medicines and some health devices such as glucose meters, nebulizers and handheld massagers.
The association said the rules say that "prescription for certain drugs needs to be endorsed while sale." Also, the dispensation has to take place from a licensed premise for which the licence has been issued by the competent authority, it said.
"Therefore, the sale of prescription drugs and medicines through online mediums is illegal. The legal regime does not permit home delivery of medicines, tough owing to situation of COVID-19 pandemic and an emergency-like situation, the government allowed the home delivery of medicines but it was meant for only neighbourhood pharmacies," it said.
Home delivery of medicines, the association said, would "require extensive modification of Drug and Cosmetic Act." Copies of the letter have also been marked to Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well as some key ministers and government officials.
Amazon did not respond to an e-mailed query regarding the letter.
"...entering this space can bring on legal implications which can bring disrepute to Amazon's name," the Association wrote.
Healthtech startups like 1mg, PharmEasy, Netmeds, and Medlife have seen strong growth in the past few months as people turned to online platforms to order their medicines while maintaining social distancing amid the pandemic.
Earlier this week, Reliance Retail Ventures Ltd announced the acquisition of a majority equity stake in Netmeds for a cash consideration of around Rs 620 crore.
With large players like Reliance and Amazon now battling in the e-pharma segment, the space is bound to see significant expansion in the near future, they added.
There are also reports that Flipkart may also venture into the segment, though the Walmart-owned company has not announced any plans yet.
The online medicine market is currently small at 3-3.5 per cent of the total pharma market as existing players do not offer express delivery options and delivery of medicine typically takes 24-48 hours. This limits the market largely to refill prescriptions or for chronic medicines for the new prescriptions, according to industry watchers.