Brazilian pharmacies are not waiting for online medication sales to be regulated to launch their Internet initiatives, local newspaper Gazeta Mercantil reported.
A study by the country's development bank BNDES found that pharmacies began to systematically launch Internet initiatives in late 2000. Brazil's 20 largest online pharmacies are all backed by traditional brick-and-mortar establishments, currently investing in their existing logistics infrastructures to service online clients.
According to Jupiter Media Metrix, a total of 197,000 unique visitors accessed health sites in Brazil in March this year, representing 3.4% of the country's 5.8 million residential Internet users.
The Brazilian pharmaceutical industry gathers some 59,800 establishments and generates an annual sales volume of US$7.4bn.
Large operators - such as Antares, Onofre and Drugshop in Sao Paulo, Farmacia Vita and Drogasmil in Rio, Drogmed and Valeverde in Parana, Panvel in Rio do Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina and Dia & Noite in Paraiba - say online sales represent just 1% of their total billing, while phone sales account for 8%. However, they expect the online market to take off in the next few years.
"This type of product is perfect for remote ordering because the patient does not need to see the medication to decide on the purchase," said Angela Marsiaj, general director of market research firm Jupiter Media Metrix in Brazil.
Online medication sales should experience a true takeoff once the sector has been regulated, she added.
According to Antonio Carlos Bezerra, general manager of the medication inspection and control unit of the Health Ministry's national health association Anvisa: "Brazil is a pioneer in Latin America in proposing a regulation for online pharmacies."
A public consultation period for the proposed law began in March and will run until May 21. The law calls on all online pharmacies to employ at least one licensed pharmacist, to sell drugs only against a valid prescription and lists a number of requirements regarding the storage and distribution of medication. It also prohibits special promotions for drugs on these websites.
"This is not a business for adventurers. Selling medication online is a serious thing and the sale rules that apply to brick-and-mortar pharmacies should apply to the online world," said Andre Vanni, director of Bula.com, an association of 25 stores belonging to the Sao Paulo-based chain Antares and technology company Telage.
In the US, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) regulated the online pharmacies sector a year ago and the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABF) created a credibility seal for websites that sell medication online.
Last year such sales generated US$600mn, a figure that Jupiter Media Metrix expects to rise to US$1.5bn in 2001 and US$3bn in 2002. In Europe, online medication sales are still illegal.