Sindh, a province of Pakistan, may lift the ban on new drug stores and put in place revised licensing rules to combat fake drugs.
Special secretary of the provincial Health department, Dr Shafqat H. Abbasi, told Dawn newspaper that his department was actively considering withdrawing the ban notification of last year.
Licensing of new medical stores could be resumed, but strictly in line with the guidelines and directives of the Supreme Court, he said.
"In future, new medical stores will be required to furnish documents showing that they employed a bachelor of pharmacy at the store, while the already existing licensed stores will be given a six-month relaxation, as is permissible under the Sindh Drug Rules," Dr Abbasi said.
In a suo motu action on the spurious drugs business in the country, the Supreme Court had asked the Health ministry to check the prevalence of spurious drugs, ensuring implementation of the drug laws in the provinces besides the presence of a qualifed pharmacist at every drug store.
The court did not ask to stop giving licences, but had directed that new drug sale licences should be issued to those establishments which had registered pharmacists since a sufficient number of graduate pharmacists was available.
The Supreme Court's guidelines had also called for computerization of all data relating to drug stores or pharmacies both at the provincial level and the federal level in order to ensure that no pharmacist is cited as being in charge of more than one medical store.
While ordering effective measures to control the sale of fake drugs in the last week of March last year, Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ibad had asked the officials concerned to present a comprehensive strategy to control the manufacturing and selling of fake drugs and had also ordered the imposition of a ban on issuing licences for new medical stores (chemists' shops) until a final strategy was chalked out.
But no new strategy was finalized, nor was the ban lifted, druggists complain.
Hence hundreds of applications to open medical or chemists' shops in the province are gathering dust.
The shopkeepers said that they were being deprived of the licence in the name of the notification, which was issued by the health department with "no proper homework and legal grounds."
It is claimed that about 6,000 retail and wholesale medical and chemists' stores - including those run by private hospitals - are holding valid licences, while another two to three thousand are operating illegally.
The assurance of the Health department officials might come as a relief to the chemists, but they are keeping their fingers crossed.