Medical Distributors are Facing a Make It or Break It Reality during COVID-19 Pandemic, Are You Prepared to Make It?

The pandemic has left a huge gap between market needs and government capabilities in providing medical products. How can a distributor help his community and "make it" despite the challenges?

By Jose Quilca

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many changes to different aspects of lives for many people and businesses across the globe. The pharmaceutical and medical products sector is no different. Communities are looking at their local governments to provide medical, financial, and social assurance. However, the role of governments in providing medical assurance through testing and treatments has been limited in comparison to the scale of the outbreak. Individuals, including healthcare workers, are relying on private distributors to help fill in the gap, both in developing and developed countries. Pharmaceutical and medical product distributors are in a key position to help provide assistance in maintaining and pushing forward the progress that we have made thus far in the fight against the pandemic.

For pharma and medical product distributors, the currently developing situation makes it difficult to maintain and predict their operations. Many have taken the steps to help their communities in fighting the outbreaks to fill current gaps and operate based on the current critical needs and shortages of medical products. The many changing variables make it hard for distributors to find a direction to follow in the current business climate. Distributors need to understand the importance of long-term planning and have a bigger picture view of the situation.

Unfortunately, some businesses have seen the pandemic only as an opportunity to make quick returns. Meanwhile, other businesses might not be willing to take the risks to meet growing demands in fear of changes over time. Businesses must understand how to navigate the current situation by taking steps that will benefit the community and their entity in the long term. Here, we have analyzed some steps that might help pharma and medical product distributors “make it” through this pandemic, by understanding key roles that they need to undertake in the long term in their markets.


1. Covid-related Product Demand Will Remain Strong


The demand for COVID-19 products, namely test kits, PPE, and other hospital equipment and disposables, has surged across the globe at an unprecedented level since the disease was declared a pandemic. Now, with efforts of containment and mitigation in place, numerous regions are experiencing a slower increase in the number of new cases per day compared to before. The problem is, data has shown that while the growth rate of new cases might have slowed down, the demand for these medical products will remain high as newly emerged cases will start showing worse symptoms and more people are receiving treatment. Not to mention, preparatory and preventative measures are still being taken as the trend too might be changing.

The WHO has released technical guidance to help the planning of essential resources needed. The tools provide an estimate for the need of personal protective equipment, diagnostic equipment, biomedical equipment, essential drugs for supportive care, and consumable medical supplies.

As distributors, you may find where your current region is positioned in terms of essential resources needed. Current projections suggest that overall most regions still fall short on testing capabilities and PPE in particular. Supportive care drugs should also be of concern for many, as the number of patients needing care follows the increase in the number of cases with increasingly worse symptoms.

Demand for some products will wane as the pandemic diminishes, but many products will continue to have strong demand indefinitely. It is important for distributors to position now to get ahead of this trend. As this pandemic has changed public perception and overall consciousness and awareness of sanitization, hygiene and immunity, products such as face masks, hand sanitizers, disinfectants will remain strong for the foreseeable future.


…although new COVID-19 cases rate is slowing down, demand for medical PPE remains high.


2. Avoid Stock-Outs

Fear of under/over stocking remains to be a hindrance for distributors to maximize their supply capabilities.


Firstly, testing capability is currently seen as a factor of whether or not social distancing measures can be slowly loosened. Testing will remain important even as the number of cases is reducing, as it can help not only the containment of spread but also community assurance despite a low infection rate.

Secondly, the global scientific community has predicted that COVID-19 outbreaks might come in waves over the next year or two. So while a slowing growth trend can be observed now, a comeback might occur as the world starts to resume its activities. The availability of COVID-19 products for the time of recurrence is crucial, for quick containment of the outbreak. It is important for distributors to have sufficient stocks of their products ready for the fight now, and also for the upcoming waves of outbreaks. Distributors should factor in their stocking capabilities, and also the shelf life of the test kits.

To learn more about how to efficiently optimize your pharma supply chain you might be interested in reading our dedicated article here!


3. Refraining from Price Gouging

The COVID-19 pandemic has driven communities to look to government and private healthcare providers, pharmacists, and pharma distributor for help. The roles of private sector distributors are so important in keeping their communities physically and mentally healthy where the governments fall short. Yet, many have instead taken the opportunity of the pandemic to rake in the most profits. Prices of medical supplies for consumers such as masks, gloves, digital thermometer, and hand sanitizers have increased at an unprecedented level over the last couple of months. Not only is it limiting some individuals from protecting themselves, but it has also forced some to look for other alternatives for means of preventative measures that might be harmful.

For example, some individuals have looked to homemade masks that do not offer much protection or homemade hand sanitizers that might burn sensitive skin. Price gouging could also cause distrust from the community. In the times where information can be obtained easily via the internet, consumers know to look for fair prices. Distrust aside, price gouging will cause the loss of competitiveness of the business. Understand that the long term fight of this outbreak will require mutual trust and respect of distributors and consumers. In this time of crisis, healthcare providers and distributors should refrain from price gouging and instead try to provide values in other forms to increase profit and community trust.


4. Working Only with Trusted Suppliers

Price gouging, unfortunately, does not just start at the local distributors. Numerous suppliers are also looking into short-term gain by taking advantage of high demands. To ensure that your customers receive a fairly-priced product, working with trusted suppliers is important. Fraud is also rampant as scammers wait for times of need to jump at any opportunity to profit. Currently, prices of COVID-19 products have undeniably increased due to exploding demand and a limited supply of materials.

However, make sure that you are working with trusted suppliers that give fair prices reflecting the market price. In addition, quality assurance should also be prioritized at this moment where many manufacturers may be producing poor-quality products due to maximized capacity. When importing products especially, a trusted supplier should have all the necessary certifications that can provide certain quality assurance. Working with a qualified and trustworthy supplier will ease your business process. You want to work with suppliers that could give you quality products at a fair market price.


5. NOT Ignoring Non-COVID-19 Products


All the world seems to be talking about is COVID-19, and understandably so. Yet, just because the novel coronavirus disease has exploded, does not mean TB, measles, and other infectious diseases have just stopped. Due to efforts in mitigating the current outbreak, national immunization programs have been halted in many countries. There is certainly a fear of a surge in infections of other diseases as COVID-19 infections slow down and the community is back to its social activities.

Currently, as many as 100 million children might be at risk for measles. UNICEF shared this concern, urging countries to not lose focus on other diseases while putting their efforts in fighting the pandemic. Distributors must consider the surge in other medical supplies such as syringes, diagnostic kits, and supportive care medicines to ensure the community is better prepared. Similarly, in non-infectious disease cases, hospitals have halted many of their surgical procedures deemed as “elective”, so as not to risk the patients being in close proximity with those being treated with COVID-19. A surge in elective procedures is expected with a decrease in the number of cases.


6. Educating the Community

Now more than ever, communities are looking to obtain as much information as possible to stay healthy and ready against any diseases. Individuals are looking for reliable information which unfortunately is muddled due to the abundance of information online. Distributors can use their products and platforms as a way to provide accurate and based knowledge. Instead of just providing basic information about your products, use your marketing channels to share helpful tips with the community.

Posters, pamphlets, or even the packaging of your products can be a way to help educate your community. You can remind your customers of the importance of handwashing or using hand sanitizers, or even share ways on how they could boost their immune system.

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