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This blog post is again not about politics; though the name suggests it could have been.

I wish to draw attention to what has the Pharma Industry done in the time of Corona.

From the outset, Pharma industry was exempted from lockdown. The manufacturing units were allowed to run, and the offices also remained open, therefore.

Manufacturing faced several challenges all the same.

Staff: People who had gone to their hometowns just before lockdown was clamped, were unable to return for several days. Even later, they had to find alternative means to somehow reach the workplaces. This meant that the staff strength remained incomplete for several days. The units operate with one person per critical position, and the absence of one person at times is quite handicapping.

Materials: Normally, imported materials are available in more quantities and can last for some time while local materials, particularly packaging is ordered on short term basis. The printers were not allowed to open printing presses, so the packaging was not available. Fortunately, we are not following just-in-time technique and some layover was available.

Imports: At any given time, several consignments are in various stages of imports. Closure of flights meant that all air-shipments were stuck where those were. Let us say a shipment had left China and reached Bangkok for onward flight to Pakistan, it just stayed there for a long time. Countries like India also suspended sea-shipments and it was like a curfew.

Imports from China: Pakistan Pharma Industry is massively dependent on China for raw and packaging materials. At the end of January, China happily closed for New Lunar Year holidays. Before the end of holidays, COVID19 struck in Wuhan and China suspended operations. The holidays kept lingering for almost 10 weeks, probably the biggest break since the start of business. When China finally opened, it had a huge backlog of orders to fill. However, the international flights were still closed (these still are), and only sea-shipments were possible. Alternatively, charter cargo flights could be used but it increased the freight many times over.

Imports from India: Prior to COVID19, Pakistan government had put a hold on imports from India. The industries made petitions to the government which allowed imports selectively and reluctantly. India probably overreacted to COVID19 and closed down everything, including Pharma industry. Airports and seaports were also closed. India was cut off from the world for over two months.

Printing Industry: Printing and Packaging Industry was later allowed to operate under certain SOPs. They got to work quickly. However, their activity did not last for long because paper markets were closed. Only a handful of printers may import paper and card directly; 99.5% or more depend upon wholesale paper markets for supplies. In the absence of paper, card and inks, the printing presses could not do much.

Plant Operations: Even other than staff shortage, plant operations faced other challenges such as extra cleaning, repeated sterilization, personnel-distancing and so on. The packaging lines where several people sit in close proximity to each other were affected. Overall output decreased with proportionate increase in cost of production.

Sales Operations: The hospitals closed, clinics closed, and doctors went off work. Pharma salespersons are required to visit doctors in hospitals and private market in order to promote their products. The entire operation was suspended. Pharmacies were open and were filling old prescriptions or over-the-counter demands. The Sales staff had nowhere to go and were forced to stay home. They could #Stayathome but they could not #Workfromhome. Some claimed they were contacting customers through phone, SMS, WhatsApp etc. but it was severely limited at best.

Marketing Operations: When the executing arm (sales) became inactive, the planning arm (marketing) became more active. LinkedIn and Facebook were lit by the colorful activities and presentations. Jury is still out on the effectiveness of these activities.

Office Working: I think the least-affected was the segment of office working. Many people could easily #Workfromhome, which they were asked to do. For those whose presence was necessary, the offices remained open. The leadership teams did not #Stayathome and #Workfromhome. They kept attending the offices regularly. This was symbolically important to keep the morale up, and it was practically necessary to enable quick decision making which is required in times of crisis.

All in all, the confusion has largely been created and sustained by the governments world over. Some acted more rationally than others. It would however be unfair to criticize government for everything they did. Each action taken by a government has a huge weight as it affects millions of people. A little inaction is many times better than a rapid action. The thing which was definitely missing was a dialogue between government and people. Government acted in isolation and it did not always work out well. Pharma Industry has largely done well. However, several companies have neither shown responsibility nor compassion.

COVID19 is a unique blow of apocalyptic proportions. No one can be ready for such catastrophes. We sincerely pray that we do not see a recurrence of such an episode. Aameen.


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