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‘E-pharmacies set to tap 70 mn houses by FY25’

The e-pharmacy sector saw approximately 2.5 times growth in the number of households using these services during the covid-19-induced lockdown. (Pradeep Gaur/Mint )Premium
The e-pharmacy sector saw approximately 2.5 times growth in the number of households using these services during the covid-19-induced lockdown. (Pradeep Gaur/Mint )

  • E-pharmacies have returned to favour with the government amid the covid-19 lockdown. Under this e-commerce firms delivering medicines became an essential service
  • The sector saw approximately $700 million investments flowing in during 2020

NEW DELHI: The online pharmacies are likely to reach 1.4 times in household penetration levels of its pre-covid-19 estimates by 2025 owing to covid-19 pandemic, a white paper by FICCI said. These firms faced major resistance from the government about a year ago, including a complete ban.

Another reason for e-pharmacies' burgeoning revenue is that the government has also softened stating that the model can work effectively with the Government's Common Services Centres (CSC) aimed at improving access to essential healthcare facilities in rural India.

The Union home ministry, on 24 March specifically mentioned delivery of medicines through e-commerce as an essential service. This led to 19 state governments declaring e-pharmacy essential during the covid-19 lockdown.

The lockdown also led to significant change in consumer behaviour towards consulting doctors, as hospital OPDs and clinics became unsafe and risky due to chances of contacting the disease. Approximately, 50% consumers reported a decline in face-to-face doctor consultation during the pandemic.

All the situations combines moved in positive directions for the e-pharmacy sector in India. The sector will be able to tap approximately 70 million households by 2025, FICCI estimated in the white paper titled 'E-pharmacies at covid-19 Frontline: Fighting the Odds, Serving the Nation'.

“The overall essence of these circumstances is that during the covid-19 epidemic, the importance of technology and digital infrastructure to deliver affordable and quality medicines and health services to consumers across the country has clearly emerged," said Ashwini Kumar Choubey, Union minister of state for health & family welfare.

“E-pharmacy is fulfilling the objectives of national development and Digital India. Pharmacy services through e-commerce have been notified by the Union Home Ministry as essential services during covid- 19. The e-pharmacy model can work effectively with the Government's Common Services Centres (CSC) aimed at improving access to essential healthcare facilities in rural India," Choubey said.

The nascent e-pharmacy sector in India proved helpful during lockdown, ensuring access to medicines across the nation.

The FICCI paper stated that there has been a shift in demand towards for at-ome access to medicines during the covid-19 pandemic. There was approximately 2.5 times growth which means about 8.8 million in the number of households using ePharmacy services in the covid-19 lockdown period. There was a higher representation from the non-metro cities, compared to pre-Covid-19 households, it said.

The Indian e-pharmacy market has already been the investor’s choice pre-covid times, as it saw approximately $700 million investments flowing in during 2020. The recent investor sentiment is also quite positive towards the sector, led by the organic adoption of e-pharmacy during the covid-19 pandemic, FICCI said.

Online pharmacies have had a rough road so far in terms of clear rules and regulation. In a 28 November, 2019 order, drugs controller general of India (DCGI) V.G. Somani directed all states and Union territories to prohibit sale of medicines through unlicensed online platforms till draft rules to regulate e-pharmacies are finalized and put in place.

The draft rules have been prepared after extensive multi-stakeholder consultation over the last five years and have been recommended by Drug Technical Advisory Board (DTAB) for finalization of the draft rules along with multiple courts directing the government to notify the e-pharmacy rules. The e-pharmacy draft rules will provide sector specific e-commerce regulations with an aim to harmonize existing laws/guidelines like IT Act, the Drugs and cosmetics (D&C) Act and Rules, among others.

“We were able to serve over 9 million households during the time of covid-19 where access to any other service was very difficult," said Prashant Tandon, Chairperson, FICCI e-pharmacy working group, and co-founder, 1mg.

“We actively ensured that all the challenges and supply chain issues that the country was facing should not come in the way of access to medicines and we accelerated our investments in logistics to ensure enhanced efficiency of our systems," he said.

India currently has more than 50 e-pharmacy platforms employing over 30,000 people.

’Digital Platforms will enable seamless exchange of information and will lead to drastic improvement in accessibility and availability of medicines across the country," said Dharmil Sheth, member FICCI e-pharmacy working group, and co-founder, PharmEasy.

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