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High Court walks back on e-pharmacy sales

A ban on online medicines sales has been stayed by the Madras High Court until it makes a final decision on the matter. This means consumers can still buy medicines online – at least for now.

E-pharmacy sales were subject to a blanket ban by the Court on Monday, December 17th. The Court’s ruling followed a public interest litigation (PIL) claiming medicines were being sold online without prescription, putting patients’ health and lives at risk.

The Court initially stayed sales until clearer regulations for the e-pharmacy industry were set forth by the Centre. A deadline of January 31st was set for these regulations to be issued. However, this decision was reversed following a successful petition by a group of e-pharmacy firms.

The news will come as some relief to players in the e-pharmacy industry, who feared losses of up to Rs 300 crore ($42.77 million) over the next two months. Between thirty and forty lakh consumers would have been disrupted by the move, e-pharmacists warned. Seventy percent of these are patients filling out repeat prescriptions for chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension according to Prashant Tandon, president of the Indian Internet Pharmacists Association.

Reports suggest that the Union Health Ministry has commenced work on drafting guidelines, to ensure that e-pharmacy regulations are issued as soon as possible. However, it is unclear how long it will take the Union Health Ministry to do this. Until then, it will be business as usual for e-pharmacists and consumers alike who will see minimal interruption. However, it is worth remembering why the ruling was made in the first place – and why e-pharmacy regulations are essential.

“We are in favour of online pharmacies…but it cannot come at the cost of health and safety,” said Bejon Misra of the Patient Safety and Access Initiative of India. “You can’t let anything to do with health to go without regulation.”

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