Drug, medical device makers slow down output at plants

MUMBAI: Faced with a 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 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 due to action by local administration at units in Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand and Karnataka. In other regions, like Sikkim, employees are refusing to turn up for work.
Chemist and druggist associations across the country have therefore warned of a supply disruption if law enforcement authorities do not stop coercive action against those associated 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 said on condition of anonymity that 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 disruptions don’t take place.
As a result, supply and distribution of essential medicines, and critical devices like masks, sanitisers, 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,” said Rajiv Nath, forum coordinator of AiMeD, an industry association representing domestic devices companies.
The pharma industry has an inventory of two months, but if issues are not ironed out, potential shortages are looming ahead. Factories in Baddi (Himachal Pradesh), Daman and Palghar (Maharashtra) are working at 30-50% capacity, pharma executives said, adding the issuance of passes for those under essential services should be done immediately or digitised.
“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 that the department for promotion of industry and internal trade (DPIIT) is trying to iron out the issues and has taken the help of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
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, an executive 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 sanitisers, there is a huge sense of fear,” said another company executive with units in Gujarat and Maharashtra. Many of the pharma units are automated but workers are required for packaging and quality control, among other functions.

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