MUMBAI: Faced with supply disruption, pharma companies and medical device manufacturers are warning of potential shortages over the next few weeks, with many of their plants either slowing down or shutting down, due to the nationwide lockdown.
Though pharma and medical devices are in the ‘essential list’, there are reports of workers not being allowed to travel to work by the local administration at units located in Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand and Karnataka. In certain others like Sikkim, it’s the employees who are refusing to turn up for work.
Chemist and druggist associations across the country have therefore warned of supply disruption, if law enforcement authorities do not stop coercive action, against those employed with essential services. This could inconvenience patients with chronic and terminal illnesses, who may not be able to access treatment.
Pharma executives that TOI spoke to on condition of anonymity said, supply disruptions are not the only issue. Even the supply of raw materials is patchy, leading to production bottlenecks. Similarly the distribution of medicines and devices from warehouses to distributors and dealers, is also getting hampered. This is despite a communication by the department of pharmaceuticals to chief secretaries on March 23, asking them to ensure these disruptions do not take place.
As a result, supply and distribution of essential medicines, and critical devices like masks, sanitizers, gloves, and protective gear are getting hampered, while production is also slowing down due to raw materials and components not reaching factories.
“Production has slowed down at units manufacturing devices, and in certain cases protective gear and masks are not being able to reach diagnostic companies and hospitals,” Rajiv Nath forum coordinator of AiMeD, an industry association representing domestic devices companies, told TOI.
The pharma industry has an inventory of two months, but if issues are not ironed out, potential shortages are looming ahead.
Factories located at Baddi (Himachal Pradesh), Daman and Palghar (Maharashtra) are working at 30 to 50% capacity, pharma executives said, adding the issuance of passes of those under essential services, should be done immediately or digitized.
“To facilitate approvals and avoid paperwork, technology should be able to help, and issuance of digital passes is an option which we have recommended”, an official with industry body, OPPI told TOI. It is understood department for promotion of industry and internal trade is trying to iron out the issues and has taken the help of the Prime Ministers’ office.
To add to their woes, there is also a problem in transporting finished items from factories, with operations of trucking and courier services getting hobbled. Packaging materials required for medicines and ointments like plastics, and tubes which are facing a shutdown, should be allowed to operate, a company official with a Mumbai-based pharma company said.
Chennai-based med device company Trivitron Healthcare has flagged issues related to movement of raw materials and components, transportation of finished goods by road, and mobility of workers.
“Though we are providing transport to our employees, and taking more precautions like checking temperatures, issuing masks and hand sanitizers, there is a huge sense of fear”, another company executive with units in Gujarat and Maharsahtra said.
Many of the pharma units are automated but workers are required for packaging and quality control, among other functions.-Times Of India