Coronavirus pandemic has seen 2.5 times growth in the number of households using e-pharmacy services, a white paper released by apex industry body Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) says. The paper titled "e-Pharmacies at COVID-19 Frontline Fighting the Odds: Serving the Nation" forecasts e-pharmacy penetration level to reach about 1.4 times of its pre-COVID-19 household estimates, ie., approximately 70 million households in the next four years (by FY2025).
With approximately 50 percent consumers reporting a decline in face-to-face doctor consultation during the pandemic, the lockdown also led to significant change in consumer behaviour towards consulting doctors. This happened as hospital OPDs and clinics became unsafe and risky due to chances of contracting the disease, the paper says. It also suggests a shift in demand 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," FICCI report said.
The Union Home Ministry had on 24 March 2020, declared delivery of medicines through e-commerce as an essential service resulting in 19 state governments declaring e-pharmacy as essential during COVID-19 lockdown.
The Indian e-pharmacy market has seen approximately $700 million investments flowing in during the financial year 2020. "The recent investor sentiment is also quite positive towards the sector, led by the organic adoption of ePharmacy during the COVID period," the paper said. According to the white paper, e-pharmacies have the potential to ensure efficient and affordable universal health coverage, in addition to providing tracking and traceability of medicines, a key aspect in the pharmaceutical supply chain.
Releasing the report, Ashwini Kumar Choubey, Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare, said that e-pharmacies are fulfilling the objectives of national development and the dream of Digital India of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. "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," he said.
India currently has 50 plus e-pharmacy platforms employing over 30,000 people.The FICCI e-Pharmacy Working Group, which prepared the white paper, has also supported the industry to come up with a 'Code of Conduct' for e-pharmacies in the country.