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Healthcare Interrupted: Chronic Medicine Supply In Times Of A Pandemic

Dr Sherine Helmy, CEO of Pharco Corporation

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, lives and businesses around the world changed in an instant. Corporate leaders across every industry were forced to make critical decisions to restructure their businesses and implement remote operational methodologies. Those companies involved in the manufacturing of goods also needed to reorganise supply chains, continue with international trade, alter production lines or completely reimagine them, all while ensuring the well-being of their employees and their financial stability.

As we are well aware, the crisis brought about by the pandemic is far from over. And undoubtedly, we will face a similar type of event in the future. However, along with exposing economic and socio-economic weaknesses, the pandemic also demonstrated Africa’s unique position for resilience, adaptation and innovation.  So, what are some of the lessons the healthcare system can learn from this cataclysmic event?

The importance of ensuring an uninterrupted supply of chronic medications to patients

Pharco Group Headquarter in Cairo

As an essential services provider, it was critical for us at Pharco to ensure that patients had a continued supply of medicines throughout the pandemic, even though there were multiple restrictions around trade. Pharco currently manufactures more than 700 pharmaceutical products, suppling these throughout Egypt and exporting to other countries in Africa. Pharco believes in delivering the most affordable, accessible, safe and effective treatments for all patients, everywhere.

While it is always of importance to be able to provide a constant supply of chronic medicines to patients, this became even more critical during the pandemic. Patients who suffer from co-morbidities such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease etc., are even more vulnerable during a pandemic where a virus, for which there is currently no cure, is easily transmitted. Those with co-morbidities are more likely to be badly affected by the virus, as their health is already compromised.

Ensuring a continued supply of vital medication

In order to ensure chronic medicine supply was not interrupted for our patients across Africa, Pharco actively collaborated with key players such as The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), an economic development programme of the African Union (AU), where we set out a plan to navigate the crisis and proposed an initiative for continued medical supply to Africa during the pandemic.

The African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD) and the World Health Organization (WHO) joined the efforts led by The Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) and devised an Africa Task Force for Coronavirus (AFTCOR), with the mission of developing a crisis plan in response to the pandemic.

Together with these organisations, Pharco proposed a pooled procurement process that better utilised technology and shared information to ensure that the demands for medicines and medical equipment are manufactured and distributed timeously and safely, including across border. The Pooled Procurement Initiative is allowing African countries to seek out the best, most cost-effective, high quality, and available products, on time. To help ensure everyone had access to their life-saving medication, Pharco also committed to not increasing the prices of its products during COVID-19.

An initiative born from the requirements of addressing a global pandemic, and developed under the AU umbrella, was the creation of a non-profit initiative, the Africa Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP). The AMSP was launched as an online marketplace channel to mitigate and manage global supply and demand of COVID-19 related supplies such as ventilators, sanitisers, masks etc., across the AU member states.

This comes in, ironically, at an opportune time where there have been calls for countries to strengthen their health systems, especially in terms of information-sharing via modern information technology platforms.

Another key factor in ensuring Pharco could deliver vital medication during the crisis was that our supply chain is designed to have a safety stock of two to three months’ supply of our strategic and critical products, so we were able to draw on these stocks.

Overcoming stumbling blocks

Inside of the EEPI facility

Like many other companies, the challenges of the pandemic meant that Pharco did have to scale down production to a degree, mostly due to challenges with our production and warehouse teams. These included instances where cases of COVID-19 were suspected, where our employees tested positive or where they had positive relatives.

Of course, we took all the precautions necessary to ensure the health of our employees while at work, including regular sanitising, temperature checks, and the use of protective face masks at all times. Pharco had to reduce the number of operating shifts during the peak of the spread of the virus, but nevertheless, we quickly took corrective measures. For example, our company divided the working day into two shifts with extended hours to ensure we had our standard count covered.

Another issue that needed to be addressed was that many of Pharco’s active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) suppliers faced complete shutdown, along with other suppliers’ manpower being decreased during the pandemic, delaying the timeous supply. API suppliers are of particular importance to companies like Pharco, as we are reliant on them to keep our products in the market.

In summary, then, it is partnerships and innovation that helped ensure chronic patients around Africa received an uninterrupted supply of their life-saving medication during COVID-19. This pandemic has taught us important lessons on how healthcare companies should focus more on collaboration, even when there is no crisis to battle. We all have the same objective in mind, at the end of the day – the good health of African citizens.

 

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