At a time when most businesses and brands are staring at huge losses due to coronavirus outbreak, sectors such as pharma, FMCG and e-tail have turned unlikely beneficiaries. In the pharma, demand for medical appliances, including masks and gloves, in particular, has gone through the roof and stocks have run dry in most parts of the country. Similarly, health and hygiene products sales spiked and retail stores ran out of stocks as soon as COVID-19 started spreading.
The shortage of masks, gowns, gloves and other single-use items for medical professionals has resulted in entry of a lot of new players in the segment.
To ensure availability of these personal protective equipments (PPEs), the government has fast-tracked manufacturing permission.
In less than 7 days, 15 firms received the government’s go-ahead to produce PPEs: These include Arvind Mills, JCT Mills Phagwara, Amare Safety, Mumbai-based Sure Safety, Delhi-based Sai Synergy, Manchanda, Shree Healthcare, Chennai, among others.
They have been asked to produce surgical gowns, gloves, goggles, hand sanitiser, clinical waste bags, waste bag closure devices, blood and fluid spill kits, mask fit test kits and thermometers.
Interestingly, these PPEs were mostly imported from China since very few companies could produce them profitably in India.
Another area where Indian firms have acquired fresh capabilities is medical devices for intensive care, including ventilators, where nearly 85 pc of the requirement was being met through imports. Not just India, most countries battling coronavirus face shortage of ventilators at hospitals. Desperate doctors in Italy have even converted snorkelling masks into ‘homemade’ ventilators to treat coronavirus patients.
Since the shortage of ventilators is even worse in India, the government has reached out to auto companies including Maruti Suzuki, Tata Motors and Hyundai, to develop the life saving equipment. Indian automobile majors Maruti Suzuki and Mahindra and Mahindra have announced they are gearing up to produce ventilators at their factories.Also, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is working with Tata and Mahindra and Mahindra to develop ‘multi-patient ventilators’. Several patients can be supported by a single multi-patient ventilator. Ventilators typically costs anywhere between Rs 5-12 lakh.
Since it’s a medical crisis, several pharma companies are struggling to meet demand. Sales of drugs such as paracetamol have spiked in recent days as people stock up medicines. In fact the prices of such drugs have increased up to 40%. But, beyond medicines, it’s the companies that’ll test for coronavirus which are to look out for.
Among them are Pune-based Mylab Discovery Solutions which has got ICMR approval to develop an indigenous coronavirus testing kit for commerical use. Mylab’s director Dr Gautam Wankhede says they are able to start supplying because they already have “the raw material and been in the molecular diagnostics manufacturing for the last three to four years.”
German company Altona Diagnostics has applied for an import licence from the Drug Controller General of India. They hope to get it soon and start supplies.
Swiss pharmaceutical major Roche, which received the emergency use authorisation for its coronavirus test kit – Cobas SARS-CoV-2 Test – from US Food and Drug Administration, has also got nod to import diagnostic kits in India.
Roche’s Indian subsidiary – Roche Diagnostics India Pvt Ltd – has received conditional import licence from the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) and is in the process of importing the test kits.