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Coronavirus outbreak: Domestic medical suppliers face workers' shortage, transport issues

Coronavirus update: Transport and logistics companies are struggling to find drivers to transport goods. There's also a shortage of workers who load heavy items. This has caused delays in transport of goods

twitter-logoPB Jayakumar | April 25, 2020 | Updated 17:40 IST
Coronavirus outbreak: Domestic medical suppliers face workers' shortage, transport issues
Coronavirus news: Logistical challenges for medical suppliers and makers

KEY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Domestic medical manufacturers, suppliers face logistical challenges
  • Healthcare products trade dips to $300-400 million from $2-3 billion a month
  • Companies struggle to find drivers for goods transportation
  • PPE maker Sure Safety says company is operating in three shifts 24X7 due to non-availability of skilled people

India's domestic manufacturers and importers of COVID-19 medical supplies like masks, personal protection equipment (PPEs), ventilators and other medical supplies are fighting issues like transportation, raw material availability, lack of workers and infrastructure amid big demand and pressure to deliver on time.

Most of the companies manufacturing these products have stopped production of other medical products which they were earlier producing. Trade of healthcare products, which includes pharmaceuticals and wellness products, has gone down from average $2-3 billion a month to about $300-$400 million a month, according to industry insiders.

Also read: Coronavirus India Live Updates: Restaurants, salons, barber shops to remain shut, govt clarifies; cases-24,506

"We now sell only about 15-20% of normally selling healthcare products, but there is a very huge demand for products related to coronavirus prevention and our suppliers are struggling to meet the orders", says Vivek Tiwari, founder and CEO of Medikabazaar, a healthcare exclusive B2B online platform. It has about 45,000 registered clients of which 60-70 percent are active clients. Organised B2B medical platforms like Medikabazaar and Colmed control 70 percent of the $400 million B2B medical supplies market.

Products that have the biggest demand are 3-ply masks, PPEs and ventilators, Tiwari says.

Transport and logistics companies are struggling to find drivers to transport goods. There's also a shortage of workers who load heavy items. This has caused delays in transport of goods; 3-4 days in case of tier-2 cities and 7-10 days to rural areas. 

Also read: Infographic: The big PPEs shortage in battling coronavirus

"We have stopped production of all other PPEs and are concentrating only on PPEs for healthcare. If we were making 5,000 units per month earlier, now production is about 60,000 to 1,00,000 units a month," said Srikant Jainapur, director, Sure Safety, one of the leading exclusive PPE makers in the country for two decades.

Due to non-availability of skilled people, the company is operating in three shifts 24X7 to meet the demand. The Vadodara-based company has already delivered over 1.5 lakh PPEs. Though raw materials to make PPEs are available in India, many automated machines have to be imported to set up large production lines. A Covid-19 centre with 50 healthcare professionals require about 3,000 PPEs a month. India lacks technology to make reusable PPEs.

Sure Safety is setting up a 'Global Safety Centre' with advanced manufacturing facilities to cater to global demand for PPEs. They aim to increase exports to 40 percent from the current 10 percent, once the current Covid-19 crisis is over. The country currently has only less than a dozen dedicated organised PPE makers. Those who have entered PPEs manufacturing due to COVID-19 crisis are likely to return to their core businesses, says Jainpur of Sure Safety.

Also read: Coronavirus: India to continue sourcing medical supplies from China; 20 flights to fly in test kits

Medikabazaar, which operates nationally with 21 facilitation centres, has roped in 15 manufacturers of ventilators, of which 4-5 are from India. Globally, there are only about 25 quality manufacturers of ventilators. Market leaders like GE, Philips and European manufacturers are not in a position to cater to Indian demand. "We supplied 150 ventilators in the last one month and have placed orders for 100 units from Trivitron and 200 from Agva Technologies. India has no end to end manufacturers as most of them are assemblers of ventilators. Availability of imported critical parts from countries like China or South Korea is delaying the supplies", said Vivek Tiwari, who expects Trivitron and Agva to supply all the ventilators before May-end.

Infrared thermometers are also in big demand as the country currently does not have more than 20,000 pieces. These are more expensive when compared to normal thermometers.

Medikabazaar imported about 2,000 units and estimates its demand to be in the range of over one lakh units.

"The main issue here is that so far we had only one cargo flight operating from China and it is difficult for importers to get a booking without waiting period", said Vivek Tiwari.

Also read: Coronavirus crisis: Centre in war mode on PPEs; 1.4 crore units on way, 4.84 lakh in hand

Also read: Coronavirus: Shortage of PPEs, govt hospitals told to wait 25-30 days

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