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Sales of 14 Steroid based creams restricted by Health Ministry due to indiscriminate use as fairness creams, but the core issues remain unaddressed

Health Ministry of India has now banned over-the-counter sales of 14 topical preparations containing steroids and antibiotics without prescription, owing to their indiscriminate promotion and use as fairness creams, but the problem is far from being resolved.

The creams which have been banned are alclometasone, beclomethasone, desonide, desoximetasone, flucinonide, halobetasone, methylpredinsone, priedincarbte and triancinolon acetonide among others. From now onwards, the pharmacists caught selling such banned creams and ointments over-the-counter without prescription are liable to be punished by the drug controller.

However, several pertinent issues remain unaddressed notwithstanding this token ban on sales of OTC steroidal creams:

BAN IMPLEMENTATION & ENFORCEMENT ISSUES:

  • Despite the ban on over-the-counter sales of these steroid based creams, it is still not implemented and effectively enforced at the ground level as large majority of pharmacy stores in India continue to sell Schedule H Drug Medicines without any medical prescription.
  • Many companies continue to illegally promote sales and indiscriminate use of such dangerous creams by incentivising pharmacists and misguiding common people to maximize their sales and profits, irrespective of the harm caused to public health.
  • India’s pharmaceutical regulator has approved at least 18 different corticosteroids for topical skin use, ranging from mild to super-potent. These usually cost less than Rs 100 a tube.
  • General public is largely unaware of the meaning of Schedule H Drug, that these drugs and creams can cause serious and long-term side-effects, if taken without proper guidance of a doctor.
  • Furthermore, only around 35% of pharmacies have a legitimate pharmacist on staff, so there is often no one to counsel the buyer on appropriate dosage and use of the cream.

And the most serious underlying cause here is the blatant and unethical promotion by the MNCs & celebrities of fairness of the skin as a measure of the superiority, attractiveness, calibre, confidence levels & self-worth, as well as job and marriage prospects of the individual in our country, which has been going on for several decades without any controls being put in place by successive governments to check such misleading ads of ‘fairness’, ‘whitening’ & ‘skin-lightening’ creams.

“[Pharmacies] dispense them like boxes of cookies. The drug companies know this is a drug and it’s not supposed to be used to lighten constitutive skin. But they label them with suggestive names like Skin Bright, Skin Light, Skin Shine, Look Bright.” as per Dr Shyamanta Barua, a dermatologist and honorary secretary general of the Indian Association of Dermatologists, Venereologists & Leprologists (as quoted in mosaicscience.com).

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