At the end of 2019, Amazon branded Pillpack as part of Amazon Pharmacy – a more complete e-commerce platform that sells a variety of prescription medications, OTC drugs, and medical supplies. The company was registered in several countries outside the US, signaling a shift to other markets. Amazon Pharmacy has now made its debut by launching a pilot program in Bangalore, India. And Indian brick and mortar pharmacists have quite a few things to say about this.
The debut of Amazon Pharmacy, owned by Jeff Bezos, the richest person in the world, happened within the same week as a similar launch from Reliance Industries, owned by Mukesh Ambani, the richest man in Asia. Reliance just announced its acquisition of Netmeds, one of the biggest online pharmacies in India. This sudden boom in the e-pharmacy space has been met with resistance from Indian pharmacist organizations, primarily the All India Organization of Chemists and Druggists (AIOCD) and Punjab Chemist Association (PCA).
Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, e-pharmacy was not a very prominent sector in India. Amazon has taken the stance that it is the perfect time for this type of online service, because it is safer for individuals to be staying at home. However, the resistance is coming from a place of legal regulation. The AIOCD, representing 850,000 pharmacists, wrote a letter addressed to Amazon warning that their online pharmacy is illegal. Online pharmacies are not recognized in India by the rules written from the Drugs and Cosmetics Act of 1940. The legislation is outdated and was written in a time when computers were less prevalent. While the Act has been attempted to be updated, no official changes have been made yet to regulate e-pharmacies.
This has caused the online pharmacy space to be a legal grey area and community pharmacists are not backing down on billionaire companies coming in to steal their patients and their business. They are fighting for their livelihood and for a healthier community. Online pharmacies in India have already faced problems in the past with improper prescriptions and the FDA has been hesitant with the many regulatory issues involved. It will not be easy for Amazon to take over this space. It will take a lot of money and a lot of persistence, but Indian community pharmacists are persistent as well. A representative from the AIOCD promises that they will fight “tooth and nail” before they hand over their livelihood to corporations like Amazon.