Abul Kashem ran a sweet shop in the New Eskaton of the capital but the coronavirus pandemic took toll on his business and so he closed it down, Instead he opened a medicine shop “Islamia Pharmacy”. He told Prothom Alo, “I was facing losses in the sweet business so I shut it and started the pharmacy.”
The coronavirus pandemic has hit businesses, be it small or large, with many people shutting down their operations and many finding new ways of business and Abul Kashem is one of them. Though most of the businesses were closed during the Covid-19 restrictions, pharmacies remained open round-the-clock, resulting in rise of drug stores within the groceries, departmental store and super shops in Dhaka and elsewhere of the country. Many pharmacies opened overnight during the coronavirus pandemic.
There are more than 50 pharmacies running on the 1.5 km road stretching from the Jigatala to the Tannery intersection in the capital. According to local shop owners, 25 per cent of these pharmacies opened in the last two years during the pandemic. There was a branch of the retail supermarket chain Meena Bazar on this road but it was closed amidst the pandemic and pharmacies opened there.
Visiting the area, this correspondent spoke to Mizanur Rahman, owner of Mahin Pharmacy at the Tannery intersection. He told Prothom Alo, “Sales were very good amidst coronavirus pandemic with sales sometime reaching Tk 100,000 a day. Though this area saw a rise in pharmacies last two years, sales are low now.”
Like the cities, rural areas also saw a rise in pharmacies with youth being drawn to this business along with the old businesspersons. There were three pharmacies in Sundarbans Bazar in Satkhira’s Shyamnagar upazila before the coronavirus pandemic. Two new pharmacies opened in last two years. Touhid Hasan, who opened one four months ago, told Prothom Alo, “I got involved in this business seeing the pharmacy boom in during Covid-19.”
According to the Directorate General of Drug Administration (DGDA), there the number of authorised pharmacies, including general shops and model pharmacies, in the country increased by 21,960 to 155,589 pharmacies in 2019-20 fiscal from 133,629 pharmacies in 2018-19 fiscal.
There were 125,489 pharmacies in 2017-18 fiscal. The agencies, however, could not reveal the latest data on pharmacies for 2020-21 fiscal. According to the DGDA, there were 739 model pharmacies in the country and half of those are in Dhaka.
Regarding this, DGDA director general major general Mohmamd Yusuf told Prothom Alo, “Other than the licensed pharmacies, there are another 100,000 pharmacies in the country. Many of them may not follow the rules so we are trying to bring these pharmacies under surveillance.”
Meanwhile, several corporate firms ventured into pharmacy business and old corporate firms already in the markets increased their investment during coronavirus. KS Pharmacy, Tamanna Pharmacy, Alesha Pharmacy, United Group's Well Being and Pran-RFL's Best Buy Pharmacy are among them.
Lazz Pharma Limited has established the largest retail chain in the country’s pharmacy business with the firm operating 69 model pharmacies in different corners of the country. Lazz Pharma founder and CEO Mohamamd Lutfar Rahman said, “Pharmacy business has boomed amidst coronavirus. Our business also expanded. Lazz Pharma opened more than 30 franchise stores in various corners of the country over the last two years.”
Lutfar Rahman said the journey of model pharmacy started in the country with them and many corporate firms has followed them and invested in pharmacy business.
Pran-RFL Group ventured into the pharmacy business amidst coronavirus with opening a separate pharmacy corner at its five Best Buy showrooms since January last year.
When asked Pran-RFL Group director (marketing) Kamruzzaman Kamal told Prothom Alo, “We involved in pharmacy business amid coronavirus and we are receiving good response from customers. We plan to open around 50 Best Buy pharmacies in Dhaka by next year. We also plan to open pharmacy at Best Buy showrooms outside Dhaka gradually.”
Many people also run pharmacy business online in addition to operating shops. These online businesses mainly provide home services and many established pharmacies have also opened online services now.
Online pharmacy operating outside the law
Industry insiders said online pharmacy business expanded amidst coronavirus pandemic with several online pharmacies opening anew. BanglaMeds.com, Pharmacy.com.bd, Oshudhwala.com, epharma.com.bd, Khidmat Drug Outlet (khidmatdrug.online), Aroggo.com, OsudPotro.com and Praava Health (praavahealth.com/pharmacy) are among the online pharmacies doing business now.
Various firms sell medicine online yet the business does not get an institutional form. Unlike the traditional pharmacy business, it is difficult to monitor online pharmacies since there is no specific law in this regard. Besides, when customers place demand for medicine online various complexities arise over prescriptions.
It is necessary to formulate a law in such circumstances, DGDA director general Mohmamd Yusuf observed. “When model pharmacies were approved, several online firms were also given permission to run business. Since some complexities arose later. We now have halted permission to online business. However, the government is mulling over necessary steps including formulation of a law to bring this business within a legal framework.”
This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Hasanul Banna