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The new challenges and evolution of the pharmaceutical industry

The new challenges and evolution of the pharmaceutical industry

Sadeck Vawda, General Manager

We are nearing the end of 2020. What a year it has been! How has Unicorn resisted the crisis?

Being a major pillar of the health care sector, the pharmaceutical industry has managed to mitigate the effects caused by the Covid-19 crisis in comparison to other businesses. Nevertheless, we have faced numerous challenges along the way, most notably since the lockdown was enforced in Mauritius and across the globe.

For instance, the distribution logistics locally had to be reassessed, with regards to movement restrictions and sanitary protocols enforced during the lockdown. As an essential service provider, we promptly secured the work access permits (WAPs) to operate, while implementing measures to ensure the health and safety of our personnel in charge of distribution to pharmacies and other outlets.

Due to a drastic reduction in flights, the import of pharmaceutical and healthcare products had to be redirected in many cases from air to sea shipments in order ensure availability of products. The latter option implied though significantly longer delays in the delivery of orders, which in turn led to a shortage of some products during confinement. At the same time, consumers indulging in panic-buying also contributed to the disruption of stock back then, particularly with respect to the treatment of chronic diseases. Additionally, there were export bans, export restrictions and stock outs at our suppliers which also contributed to delays in the delivery of our orders. Thankfully, our stock has now been replenished and consumption trends have stabilised.

The third challenge that we had to deal with was a reduced availability of staff during lockdown. For obvious (and valid) reasons, we had to accomplish the usual workload with a workforce scaled down to between fifty to sixty percent. Nonetheless, we were able to achieve our objectives thanks to the collective participation of those who could attend to the duties.

Another challenge is that the depreciation of the rupee with respect to major currencies like US dollar and the Euro is having a direct impact on the price of medication and other products. An additional factor leading to increase in price of medication is the increase in freight charges during this pandemic era.

What role can Unicorn play in this new context?

It was interesting to witness how the Covid-19 crisis inspired a collaborative culture at Unicorn: staff across all levels of hierarchy supported each other by filling roles they could, whether it was their responsibility to carry it out or not. Regardless of the constraints they faced during the pandemic, our employees put their efforts together to function as efficiently as possible, maintaining a level of service worthy of our reputation. It was a great act of solidarity that we nurture and intend to develop here at Unicorn, and also encourage other enterprises to adopt.

We are confident that in the event of a second lockdown or should we be faced with a major dilemma arising from the consequences of the pandemic, that we shall be able to overcome the challenge thanks to our tightknit team. As a healthcare company, we are fully aware of our responsibility in providing quality health care services to the Mauritian population and strive to live up to their expectations.

How do you see the evolution of the pharmaceutical industry for 2021?

Covid-19 being highly contagious and having jeopardised the way society functions across all spheres, especially in terms of physical human interactions, its impact on the future of the pharmaceutical industry is manifold.

Due to limitations such as social distancing and reduced personnel, there already are ongoing delays in clinical trials to evaluate the effectiveness and safety of medicines and medical devices, before they can be granted regulatory approval for marketing. This has a direct consequence on the launching of new drugs in many pathologies. Trials for Covid-19 vaccines and treatments are being prioritised by the pharmaceutical industry and this can also cause delays in trials and launching of new drugs for other diseases

The pandemic has provoked a boom of e-commerce and the fast development of digital strategies. Concerns over transmission of the virus, particularly in the health care sector where practitioners are at the forefront of the pandemic, has encouraged new ways of doing business: tele-consultations are being privileged over face-to-face consultations as far as possible in many countries.

In fact, remote interactions are the trend in many countries to allow doctors to focus on Covid-19 patients, and also curtail the risk of contamination. Digital health might be the next thing as tele-medicine and health-related apps are proving to be popular and could have a major implication for the pharmaceutical industry.

In Mauritius, the pharmacy profession which has been at the forefront of the Covid pandemic has done a remarkable job. Apart from working at very odd hours and in difficult conditions, leaving their families behind and putting themselves at risk of infection, pharmacists have re-engineered their businesses to help patients and minimise risk of transmission through:

  1. Online ordering / electronic transfer of prescriptions through WhatsApp
  2. Home delivery using strict sanitary / social-distancing measures
  3. Contactless methods of payment.

In the same line, the current situation having forced most interactions and communications to go online, the pharmaceutical and health care industry in general have resorted to webinars to exchange information and ideas. Unicorn has organised several webinars since the lockdown to allow for updates, trainings and discussions for healthcare practitioners (pharmacists and doctors)

What is your message to your team and stakeholders for 2021?

First and foremost, I would like to express my sincere thanks to all stakeholders of the business, especially our staff. We are lucky to function without the traditional hierarchical boundaries usually enforced in most companies, and to instead promote unifying values that have proven to be our strength.

The pandemic has consolidated our engagement and motivation to overcome all challenges, and our determination to fulfil our customers’ needs has been successful in minimising the economic impact of this crisis on our business. For this, we must be grateful, as our strategy has allowed us to be largely shielded from job losses as can be observed in other sectors.

Most importantly, we are essential pillars of a noble field of work and we should take both pride and humility in what we do. We have helped a tremendous amount of people in obtaining their medication and other products like infant milk and critical medical devices during lockdown and in times of scarcity.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish all our staff, their family members and all our stakeholders a fruitful, happy and healthy new year 2021.

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