Aster launches region’s first online pharmacy

The company plans to deliver prescription medication to the homes of its customers

Dubai-based Aster Pharmacy has unveiled the first online pharmacy in the Gulf Cooperation Council.

The AsterOnline.com portal offers more than 10,000 products including over the-counter medication, nutritional products and medical equipment. The company – part of the retail arm of Aster DM Healthcare LLC – also plans to deliver prescription medication to the homes of its customers, once it achieves government approval.

Aster DM Healthcare’s chairman and managing director Dr Azad Moopen said: “Healthcare has been in the back seat of the digital era. It is still in its infancy as 99 per cent of people still visit the clinics and pharmacies. This has to change, and we want to be on the forefront of the online pharmacy market.

“We are also looking at having online consultation done at home with the doctor. The doctor will then send the prescription to the pharmacy. The pharmacy will then arrange to deliver the medication to the patient. In this way, the patient can get the full circle of treatment staying home.”

Currently, Aster is able to deliver medication for cases that allow sufficient time for the drugs to be ordered online, such as diabetes or hypertension. However the online pharmacy is unable to provide medication for chronic and severe cases and those that require immediate attention, although it is optimistic of acquiring the requisite permissions in the near future.

“I firmly believe that it should happen soon given the pace at which Dubai is progressing towards realising its smart city initiatives, thus encouraging digitalisation and innovation,” said Aster Pharmacy’s chief executive officer Jobilal Vavachan.

“This is a very big decision for the government that needs a lot of consideration. But we are technically ready and once this approval is given we will go full throttle and be the leaders in this field,” he added.

With the online initiative, Aster plans to increase its presence in the region and globally. In the first year it aims to focus on developing the online service mainly in the United Arab Emirates and then growing into the wider GCC.

“We are looking at 1,000 to 1,500 deliveries per day and will deliver the medicines within 24-hours,” Vavachan said. “We plan to gradually shorten this period to less than 12 and six hours.”

Aster has been able to expand its business despite the challenging post-oil economy, something Vavachan claims can be attributed to “attitude”. “These are times when we need to adopt the most innovative way of connecting with consumers and changing your business offering,” he said.

The online initiative has seen Aster hire 200 staff across the senior management, online and logistics categories with more across their pharmacies in general.

“Last year in the pharmacy vertical alone we hired over 200 pharmacists and this year in the first five months alone we hired over 100 pharmacists,” explained Vavachan.

He added that the development of the online venture will not see the company enter into any new deals or partnerships.