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Traders seek Army's help to distribute medicines

By Sohini Das & Gireesh Babu
March 31, 2020 12:30 IST
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The situation is severe in North India as most of the logistics operation was manned by migrant labourers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

The problem with manpower is not only in courier and delivery services, but also at a shop level.

With the country fearing stock-out of medicines at a retailer level, the central government is taking steps to ensure supplies reach the last mile.

Chemists associations have already suggested that help from the Indian Army be taken to despatch medicines to stockists and retailers in North India.

 

Top government officials and industry associations have joined social media groups to monitor the situation closely and take swift remedial action.

Jagannath Shinde, president of the All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists (AIOCD) - a body that represents 850,000 chemists across India - said the situation in Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, and Chandigarh is grim and supplies at a retailer level may last for the next 10 days or so.

“We have suggested that the government take the help of the Army if needed to ensure medicines reach stockists.

"Airlifting of medicines has started in some areas.

"There is one-month stock lying with the clearing and forward (C&F) agents,” said Shinde.

The situation is severe in North India as most of the logistics operation was manned by migrant labourers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

Supplies from Himachal Pradesh (where Baddi is a manufacturing cluster) are also low, claimed sources.

“Most factories there are functioning with 50 per cent manpower. The units in clusters like Baddi and Sikkim had migrant personnel manning the operations,” said an industry insider.

The problem with manpower is not only in courier and delivery services, but also at a shop level.

Kolkata’s Bagri market - a major hub for wholesalers and distributors of medicines - has 10-15 shops open of the 500-odd stores.

The government is leaving no stone unturned to salvage the situation.

Top bureaucrats from the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP), Ministry of Health, National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority, Central Drugs Standard Control Organization have joined social media groups (WhatsApp) with pharma industry bodies, including formulation makers and bulk drugmakers to monitor the situation.

“The government will connect with district collectors to ensure free passage.

"In fact, the home secretary has already held meetings with all state chief secretaries.

"The DoP secretary has written to the state chief secretaries as well,” said a senior government official.

He added that cargo planes are also on standby at the 11 airports.

Manufacturers, too, are working round the clock to ensure medicines despatched from factories reach the logistics hubs.

“For example, manufacturers of insulin have formed groups with their distributors and are taking real-time updates,” informed an industry executive.

While there is no dearth of raw material in the country, distribution has become a major challenge.

“We are unable to despatch the stock as stockists are not able to requisition,” said a Gujarat-based drugmaker.

Panic buying by patients has not helped either. Punjab Chemists Association has written to the Drug Controller General of India seeking timely intervention.

Tamil Nadu’s chemist wing said the state has stock till April 8. K K Selvan of Tamil Nadu Chemists & Druggist Association said interstate transportation needs to pick up.

He said it has taken measures to open more than 80 per cent of the pharmacies in the state.

Rajiv Singhal, general secretary of AIOCD, said, “If the situation continues, we can expect shortage in the next 10-15 days.”

One of the C&F agents for various drug majors, including Cadila Healthcare and MSD Pharmaceuticals, has said it has received stocks from other states, but moving smaller consignments to various districts have become onerous.

Photograph: PTI Photo

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Sohini Das & Gireesh Babu in Mumbai/Chennai
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