Centre plans to introduce stringent norms to curb the practice of engaging unqualified staff at the pharmacy counters to dispense drugs is welcomed

The pharmaceutical trade in India is disorganized. Every challenge facing Indian pharmaceutical industry has its direct impact on the trade sector. The impact of mergers & acquisitions, co-marketing, GATT, TRIPS, etc are all to reflect in the day to day functioning of drugs trade.

Pharmaceutical companies are losing their brand equity as most of them are introducing similar products, which further leads to fragmentation of market share for branded generics. The plethora of brands for a single drug is a growing problem for chemists all over the country. If there are 25 companies coming out with different brands of one single drug, the chemist is compelled to stock all 25 brands for the sake of remaining in the highly competitive business of drug trade. In the process, a retailer often stocks 90 strips of each drug by investing at least 10 times more than their international counterparts, who deal with patented medicines. Our margins are fixed, but our investments are ever increasing.

Majority of retail chemist shops in the country are being run by traders with no sufficient storage space, no air conditioning and with no presence of pharmacists at the counters. These are statutory requirements provided in the Drugs & Cosmetics Act.  Improper Infrastructure relating to proper cold chain facilities, electricity supply, transport facility leads to difficulties in maintaining International standards.

Pharma trade is a noble profession. There has to be a government policy not to allow too many medical shops near hospitals to avoid cut throat competition, cost cutting.
Competition among generic manufacturers is also turning ugly. They are giving 200% to 300% margin.

Due to the huge growth in demand for drugs, pharmacies are increasing leading to severe competition and unethical practices. The primary responsibility of a retail pharmacy is to ensure presence of a qualified pharmacist, well equipped with knowledge of community pharmacy, modern aspects of dispensing, patient counseling, biochemistry and clinical pharmacy and drug store management.

The Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers, has noted that about 90 per cent of the pharmacies in the country do not have qualified staff at the counters to dispense medicines. at the retail counters. The ministry has also received a number of complaints in this regard from different quarters. The routine complaint of the traders for not keeping a full time qualified pharmacist at the counter is the high cost of running a trade establishment. Thus Centre plans to introduce stringent norms to curb the practice of engaging unqualified staff at the pharmacy counters to dispense drugs.

The problems of the drug trade fraternity are as follows:

The absence of Bill is one of the most common complaints raised against retail chemists. No licensed chemist will turn away a customer if he insists on a bill. Often the patients are in a hurry and leave the counter without even waiting for the bill. However, for every purchase, the retailer has to maintain a bill, which he prepares, whether or not the customer accepts it or not. There has to be an end to the blame the trader takes, there should be a beginning to greater customer education.

Doctors expect more from chemists. They don't just confine their role to prescribing medicines. They often dispense medicines. There are also instances of medicine purchase using the chits.

Many companies offer freebies to traders. For high value products there are schemes like 10 + 2. This means the companies are giving 20% extra commission to the chemists. Such schemes and reduce the rates of the drugs should be closely monitored by the government.

Pharmacist is mandatory requirement. Can every retail chemist afford to employ diploma holders alone as salesmen?

Spurious drug issue is another major area of concern. There are many experts in the government as well as in the industry who finds trade responsible for the presence of "spurious drugs". The entire issue should be seen in a different angle. We should understand that there are different types of "spurious drugs" in the market.

Drugs that are duplicated / counterfeited – though they have the exact ingredients and are as effective as the original drugs are the main problem. The trade channel is porous imitators to pump in their drugs into the supply chain. The companies need to control the supply chain. They are often concerned only with their quarterly sales figure and in order to jack up their share values, they often dump the drugs on to the C&F agent who in turn have to supply it to the stockists, distributors, sub-dealers, wholesalers, and finally the retailer. If they can tighten their grip over the supply chain, and can track the movement of drugs, spurious drug issue can be solved easily.

There is also no rationale in simply penalizing the retailer for supplying "spurious drug". What if some drug has entered into the shop due to his oversight? What the government should do is to look into the past track record of the retailer. If the law is strengthened it will be misused against chemists. Trade is against spurious drugs. But no genuine retailer should suffer due to a fault that is not of his.

The drug trade, at least in the metros, is to witness tremendous changes in the coming days. With retail drug chains like Medicine Shoppe establishing themselves in the cities, retail chemists would certainly have to invest more on infrastructure. However, we don't find any threat from such big shops.

Organized retail chains like Medicine Shoppe, Apollo Pharmacy and few others have come up in metros and are spreading fast across the country. Their operations are far better than traditional medical shops. A change in the mindset of pharma trade is required to transform the good old retail chemists shops into modern pharmacies. The government and the pharmaceutical companies should set a level playing field for all traders. There are companies who have special rates for big hospitals who do direct purchase.