Numerous drugs which would otherwise require a valid medical prescription to be obtained over the counter can be easily bought online without one.

Explainer Why are medicine shops around you closed today
news Explainer Wednesday, October 14, 2015 - 15:12

Have you noticed that the medical shop round the corner is probably closed?

This is because the biggest association of pharmacies in the country, All India Organisation of Chemists & Druggists (AIOCD) has directed its members to participate in Wednesday’s bandh.

What is the issue?

The reason cited by the protestors for the strike is the lack of regulation in the e-pharmacy business and the President of the AIOCD adds that It is illegal to sell medicines on the internet citing the Drugs and Cosmetics Act 1940.

Numerous drugs which would otherwise require a valid medical prescription to be obtained over the counter can be easily bought online without one.

If the proposed move of online sale of medicines goes through, the brick and mortar business is likely to suffer huge losses. 

What is everyone saying?

Though chemists have informed citizens across the country to stock their drugs and pills in advance, some states like Karnataka have claimed that the strike is in violation of the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA), which ensures the delivery of critical services, including health services. 

State drugs controller Dr Raghuram Bhandary told the Times of India that "We are trying to get at least one chemist's shop to remain open in a locality. As for online sale of drugs, there is a committee formed by the Centre. I am on it too and it will take 3-4 months for us to come out with a report as it's a major issue." 

Many pharmacists in stores also feel that there is an urgent need for monitoring and regulating online medical dispensaries, before things get out of hand. 

“There are no specific regulations for online medical sales in the country. We need specific guidelines that take into consideration the realities of the online market,” Dr Surendra Mantena, chief operating officer of MedPlus Health Services told The New Indian Express.

This lack of regulation was exposed when e-commerce retailer SnapDeal was found selling prescription drugs online in April last year in Mumbai. Maharashtra's FDA filed a case against Kunal Bahl, the CEO of the website and ordered a probe into the incident.

 The pharmacists also claim that a large percentage of online medical sales, come from small websites based outside the country and only a fraction come from within the country.

Meanwhile, reports suggest that the online retailers have formed a self regulatory body called the Indian Internet Pharmacy Association (IIPA) to ensure that its members operate in accordance with existing drug laws.

According to a report in Pharmabiz, There are eleven members currently enrolled with IIPA which include Bookmeds, mChemist, Medidart, Medlife, Medstar, Netmeds, Pharmeasy, (PM Health & Life Care), SaveOnMedicals, Savemymeds and

"We are committed to working with the regulators to ensure that India has an exemplary model for e-pharmacy. We welcome and applaud the regulators’ announcement that they are on a path to draft guidelines to regulate the new model...It’s an idea whose time has come," Kiran Divakaran, General Secretary, IIPA told the website.

The IIPA has also submitted its own list of recommendations to the committee formed by the centre