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FICCI releases White Paper titled 'e-Pharmacies at COVID-19 Frontline Fighting The Odds: Serving the Nation' 

Health Wire , Aug 13, 2020

The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) e-Pharmacy Working Group today released a white paper titled "e-Pharmacies at COVID-19 Frontline Fighting the Odds: Serving the Nation".

The FICCI ePharmacy Working Group comprising leaders in the sector, has been actively working to drive innovative models for medicine and healthcare access in the country. The whitepaper elaborates on change in ePharmacy market dynamics during the COVID 19 period and the subsequent response of ePharmacy platforms in active partnership with existing pharmacies to provide access to quality and essential medicines at the door step of citizens of the country.

There is a need for a future ready digital health system in India, something that has become even more urgent in the wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic. A strong health system must have a resilient digital backbone and, in this light, ePharmacies have the potential to ensure efficient and affordable universal health coverage. They also provide tracking and traceability of medicines which is a key aspect in the pharmaceutical supply chain.

Speaking on the occasion Shri Ashwini Kumar Choubey, Honourable Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India said ‘’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. E-pharmacy is fulfilling the objectives of national development and the dream of Digital India of the Honourable Prime Minister. 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’’.

Speaking about this, Mr. Prashant Tandon, Chairperson, FICCI ePharmacy Working Group & Co-Founder, 1MG said, “The nascent ePharmacy sector in India was fortunate to be in a position to serve the citizens during time of lockdown, ensuring access to medicines across the nation. The entrepreneurs in the space stepped up, and are motivated by the positive support of the citizens. We look forward to working with the Government and having clear and enabling guidelines to move this sector forward, and unleash a wave of innovation across the healthcare delivery ecosystem”

Adding further, Mr. Dilip Chenoy, Secretary General FICCI, said, “The ePharmacy sector through an active partnership with existing pharmacies, is firmly committed to support the government and help the nation in fighting COVID-19. The industry is working 24×7 to ensure that people get essential medicines at home all across the country, and the reach of existing pharmacies are expanded. Importantly, the regular medicines required for ongoing treatment are also being delivered. There is an urgent need to nurture this promising sector with the right set of policy frameworks and guidelines in order to provide the benefits that the sector fosters for the consumers.”

‘’Digital Platforms will enable seamless exchange of information and will lead to drastic improvement in accessibility and availability of medicines across the country. This aligns with the governments vision of Digital India leading to all the stakeholders – be it doctors, pharmacies and patients to start using online platforms leading to better healthcare outcomes’’ said Mr. Dharmil Sheth, Member FICCI ePharmacy Working Group & Co-Founder, PharmEasy.

“epharmacies have not just served society at this time of pandemic, they have helped thousands of senior citizens and chronic patients stay safe by delivering medicines to their doorstep. What more, no other retail route provides transparency and adherence to laws the way ePharmacies can. Digital health is the future and the pandemic has accelerated its adoption. There is an urgent need to nurture ePharmacy sector with the right set of policy frameworks and guidelines in order to provide the benefits that the sector fosters for the citizens of the country”, added Mr Yogesh Shukla, Director, Medlife.

Some key observations in the white paper include the following.
  • There has been a shift in demand towards for at-home access to medicines during the COVID 19 pandemic. There was approximately 2.5x growth (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.
  • Approximately 70%+ consumers cited satisfaction with the initiatives undertaken by ePharmacy platforms during the COVID 19 Pandemic. It is estimated that the ePharmacy penetration level is likely to reach ~1.4x of its pre-COVID-19 household estimates by FY 25. ePharmacy in India will be able to tap approximately 70 million households by FY 25.
  • 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.
  • The Union Home Ministry, vide order number 403/2020-D dated 24th March 2020, specifically mentioned delivery of medicines through e-commerce as an essential service. This led to 19 state governments declaring ePharmacy essential during COVID-19 lockdown.
  • The Indian ePharmacy market has already been the investor’s choice pre-COVID, as it saw approximately $700 million investments flowing in during FY 20. The recent investor sentiment is also quite positive towards the sector, led by the organic adoption of ePharmacy during the COVID period.
The ePharmacy model operates in full compliance and harmony with existing laws. The draft rules have been prepared after extensive multi-stakeholder consultation over the last five years and have been recommended by DTAB recommended for finalization of the draft rules (Drug Technical Advisory Board), along with multiple Courts directing the Government to notify the ePharmacy Rules. The ePharmacy Draft Rules will provide sector specific e-commerce regulations with an aim to harmonize existing laws/guidelines like IT Act, D&C Act and Rules etc.

India currently has 50+ ePharmacy platforms employing over 30,000 people. These platforms are expected to become the government’s key partner in enabling various social health initiatives and there is a need to notify the ePharmacy draft rules. A simple and clear regulatory path will help unleash the potential of technology for improving access to affordable and quality medicines.

The FICCI ePharmacy Working Group has supported the industry to come up with a ‘Code of Conduct’ for e-Pharmacies in the country. It is committed to working with the government for ensuring that patients across the country have access to quality and affordable medicines and healthcare through a very efficient supply chain. The need of the hour is for the government to consider the importance of digitization in healthcare to empower consumers and notify the Draft e-Pharmacy Rules at the earliest.