The Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh,, has expressed concern about Aarogya Setu, a coronavirus disease (Covid-19) tracking mobile application developed by the National Informatics Centre.
The SJM said it has written to the Prime Minister’s Office and to the Union Ministry for Health and Family Welfare, flagging concerns about allowing e-pharmacies, including Aarogya Setu Mitr, to sell medicines in the country.
'A government-owned web application should not be allowed to undertake an activity, which is against the law. There are over seven lakh chemists in the country, who will be severely affected by allowing e-commerce platforms to sell medicines,' said Mr. Ashwani Mahajan, national co-convenor, SJM.
On Monday, the government allowed the sale of medicines and also seeking medical advice on Arogya Setu while launching the Aarogya Setu Mitr portal.
The platform, developed on a public-private partnership model between the government and Swasth Foundation, Project StepOne, Tata Bridgital Health and Tech Mahindra’s healthcare initiative Connectsense Telehealth, offers tele-consultation services and doorstep delivery of medicines and laboratory test results.
The portal collects the user’s IP address, postal code and mobile phone device details. Companies such as 1mg, Dr Lal Pathlabs, Metropolis, SRL Diagnostics and Thyrocare are engaged for doorstep laboratory tests, while Netmeds, PharmaEasy, 1mg, and Medlife have been chosen to deliver medicines and laboratory test results.
A government official, involved with the app and its backend operations, said that as public health was the primary motive of the app, telemedicine was the intended logical next step. 'We wanted to offer a 360-degree solution to users under lockdown restrictions. The Centre has identified the sale of medicine on e-commerce sites as an essential service,' the official said.
Mr. Yash Aggarwal, legal head of South Chemists and Distributors Association in New Delhi, has also criticised the move. He cited a December 2018 Delhi High Court order that stayed the online sale of medicines without a valid licence. 'It’s illegal to sell drugs online. On March 26, the Union Health Ministry allowed the doorstep delivery of drugs with some conditions making the online sale of medicines legal in the country,' Mr. Aggarwal said.
Mr. Prashant Tandon of 1mg, whose company is delivering laboratory test results and medicines on doorsteps, said that they do not have access to a patient’s data. 'The data management for e-pharmacies are defined and violations invite action. The e-pharmacy can assess the prescription, and there’s a clear audit trail for digital transactions. The regulator can track the sales of medicines on our platforms transparently, which some offline sellers, however, don’t maintain,' he said.
He said that e-pharmacies are not allowed to sell schedule X drugs. 'Schedule X drugs such as narcotics are not sold online, as the draft rules on e-pharmacies don’t allow them,' he said.
Mr. Aggarwal also pointed out that when users click on the link on the Aarogya Setu Mitr portal to purchase medicines, it takes them to an external website, which is owned by a private firm.
'There are security and privacy issues as well. How can we allow classified information about a person to be collected by a private company?' he asked, demanding that the government immediately suspend the sale of medicines online.
In a letter to the Principal Scientific advisor, Dr. K Vijay Raghavan, and the NITI Aayog chief executive officer, Mr. Amitabh Kant, Mr. Aggarwal said, 'The notification issued by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare leaves no doubt that home delivery was never allowed under the Drugs and Cosmetic Rules, 1945, and e-pharmacies are functioning against the law before the notification was issued. However, even this notification has not given them a legal right to operate and home deliver the medicines.'
'This notification is valid only in extraordinary times such as the Covid-19 pandemic. Mostly pharmacies act as aggregators, which are not allowed under the notification as a valid licence needs to be issued under the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1945. The delivery of medicines also has to be done by a licensee in the same revenue district, which further makes it clear that these rules are not meant for e-pharmacies,'