This article is part one of a series of three articles that looks at the Supply Chain of the Pharmaceutical industry in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, we examine the crisis, the challenges that emerged, and the industry response in the short term. Part 2 of the series will outline the 'Learnings from the Crisis for Supply Chain Management', and part 3 will ideate on the 'Supply Chain Management Strategy for the New Normal'

The COVID-19 pandemic that has swept through the world this year has caused unprecedented health and economic distress globally. To curb the rapid spread of infection through their populations, several countries imposed and continue to impose widespread lockdowns. This has caused significant disruption in demand and supply around the world.

These lockdowns, naturally, created considerable challenges for businesses providing 'essential' goods and services, such as the pharmaceutical (pharma) industry. The rapid response of internal teams, industry associations, and governments enabled these industries to minimize disruption.

This article uses the Indian pharmaceutical sector as a case study, to examine the challenges faced due to the lockdown, and outlines the measures that helped get the supply chains back on track. We believe that the learnings from this experience are relevant and valuable to companies around the world.

Tracking the Timeline

COVID-19, a disease that was first reported in China in Dec 2019, spread rapidly to other parts of the world soon, reaching pandemic proportions. As showcased in Figure 1, the first case in India was recorded in late January 2020.


Figure 1: A Brief Timeline of Milestones related to COVID-19

In general, the national and state-level lockdowns imposed severe restrictions on the mobility of people, suspending all commercial and social activities that require people to come together, except for those defined as essential services. Several private and public enterprises initiated 'Work From Home arrangements' (WFH), a format that is still widely prevalent today

The Lockdown in India

In India too, offices, factories, educational establishments, large markets, shopping malls, etc., were asked to stay shut. However, the Government wanted to ensure that essential services and supplies, which included food and grocery, pharmaceutical and medical goods, and healthcare services, among others, continued operations, to maintain public well-being. Since, the government and businesses had limited time to prepare for the lockdown, the challenges faced by supply chains in general and essential services in particular were compounded.


Figure 2: First-wave of challenges after the imposition of the national lockdown.

These issues were faced across geographies, as similar preventive measures were taken in most states.

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