8 Lakh Chemists go on strike to protest against online drugs sales
NEW DELHI: Around eight lakh pharmacies across the nation downed their shutters on Wednesday to demand a crackdown on online drug sales, which they say is unregulated and eroding their business.
The one-day strike is aimed at curbing India’s burgeoning online drug retail industry, which the All India Organization of Chemists and Druggists (AIOCD) says is putting customers at risk by failing to follow existing rules.
In Maharashtra, around 55,000 retail chemists and pharmacists joined the day-long strike. More than 5,000 chemists across Himachal Pradesh were also closed. There was a complete shutdown by the retail and wholesale chemists across the state, Himachal Pradesh Chemist and Druggist Association president Sanjeev Pandit said.
Over 35,000 chemists and wholesalers in Chandigarh, Punjab and Haryana joined the strike. The striking chemists took out protest marches at various places in Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh. The chemists submitted memorandums to the civil and medical authorities for their onward submission to the district authorities.
Sporting banners against the online sale of medicines and demanding suitable amendments in relevant Acts to check it, the protesters marched through markets at different places in the two states and Chandigarh, police said.
They also raised slogans against the central government.
Chemist shops in Odisha also largely remained closed. Utkal Chemist and Druggist Association general secretary Prabir Das said around 20,000-odd chemists in the state had responded to the bandh call.
“It is going to be a 100 percent strike. Approximately 800,000 chemists will be on strike,” AIOCD president J S Shinde said.
“Our own investigation has shown that anti-pregnancy pills, sleeping pills and steroids are being sold freely online.”
A slew of companies opened shop online in India last year to tap a market worth more than an estimated $10 billion.
Registered e-pharmacies like 1mg and Zigy say they have teams of pharmacists who vet prescriptions submitted online to counter potential abuse.
But India has no specific rules covering e-retailers, and bricks-and-mortar sellers say drugs are being sold online without proper verification.
“Our business has also been affected by 40-50 percent because of drugs being sold online,” Shinde said.
“We want the government to close down all illegal online pharma companies immediately.”
India’s government said it was in the process of drawing up guidelines to regulate online drug sales.
“A sub-committee has been constituted to look into the matter, which has so far undertaken only preliminary discussions with the stakeholders to ascertain their views,” the health ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.
Pharmacies will be closed all day, although customers will be able to buy emergency drugs through special telephone numbers printed on posters and newspapers. Shinde assured that arrangements have been made in various hospitals to ensure uninterrupted availability of any emergency drugs for patients.
He claimed that the strike was “in public interest since the sale of medicines through internet was illegal, increases the risk of adverse drug reactions (side-effects), and would ease entry of low quality, unbranded and spurious medicines”.
Besides, it could pose a big threat of irrational use of medicines, lead to drug addiction among the youth, affect availability of medicines in rural India and prove a setback to the 800,000 plus chemists and pharmacists employing nearly eight million people, he added.
“With a 125 crore population, India is already facing huge problems of shortage of doctors practicing in modern medicine. Doctors of other branches like homoeopathy and ayurveda are also practicing and prescribing allopathic drugs. We just cannot compare ourselves with the developed countries which have necessary infrastructure and manpower for good governance,” Shinde said.
(Inputs from agencies)