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Why is there such a shortage of medicines at your local chemist?

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Video editor: Purnendu Pritam

Medicines are classified as “essential items” according to the rules of India’s three-week lockdown. However, reports of people struggling to procure medicines are common – from difficulty in going to a government hospital in Delhi to get a HIV-suppressing medicine or reports of kidney patients suffering in Kerala due to shortage of medicines. If a relative of yours is stuck in another city, and you have to send them medicines, what can you do? And more importantly, why is there such a shortage of medicines at your local chemist?

We are answering all your COVID-19 and lockdown-related questions. You can email us at covid19faqs@thequint.com, and read our FAQs here.

Will my usual chemist be open?

It should be. Under the Ministry of Home Affairs guidelines, medicines are considered to be essential goods. So your usual chemist should be open. However, chemist and pharmacy owners are reportedly facing harassment, which is a possible reason why your neighbourhood chemist shop may not be open. On 28 March 2020, All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggist (AICOD) wrote a letter to the state government about the “high-handed approach” of the police towards the shop owners, and how they are unable to stay open 24x7.

Can I order my medicines home?

You can. Apart from calling your neighbourhood chemist, there are a number of helpline numbers which you can use, to have your medicines delivered.

  • For senior citizens, you can call helpline numbers for the delivery of medicines in Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Chandigarh. You can read more about these helplines here. Caremongers India is also a nationwide initiative which is delivering essential items like food and medicines to senior citizens.
  • The Centre has set-up a control room to monitor the transportation and delivery of essential commodities. You can call the helpline at 011-23062487.
  • You can also order medicines online through 1MG, MedLife, NetMeds, Practo and myUpchar.
  • States also have helpline numbers for COVID-19 related queries, which you can find here.

I purchase my medicines from a government hospital far away. Will I get a curfew pass?.

While medicines are classified as essential goods, and thus you shouldn’t need a curfew pass, it’s best to check with your local authorities. You can read more about curfew passes, and how to get them here.

Why is there a shortage of medicines in chemists’ shops?

E-pharmacy companies like Practo, 1MG are facing the twin issues of supply chain disruption and lack of available delivery persons. Speaking to Livemint, Rajat Garg, co-founder and CEO of MyUpchar, explained the issue, saying most delivery people “have left for their native villages, and are not readily available. In Delhi, 75% of the staff is back and, in Lucknow, it is 30%,”

Customers who are panic-buying medicines are also not helping, with some reportedly buying medicines in bulk for six months. This is impacting supply of chemist shops as well, especially for essential medicines. Rajiv Singhal, President of All India Druggist and Chemist Association says, “Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, and North-eastern states beyond Guwahati are facing a shortage of medicines for diabetes, cardiac and respiratory diseases, and cancer among other illnesses,” reports Outlook India. All of these factors mean that your neighbourhood chemist shop may be running low on supplies, or may not be stocking the medicine that you need.

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