The Supply Chain Response to India’s Second Wave of Covid!

Second Wave

April 2021 saw India’s second wave of Covid – 19. The largest democracy in the world witnessed a tremendous surge in Covid infections with more than 3 lakh fresh Covid cases daily. The detection of the UK variant in September 2020 was a big alert to be in guard, but our system was slow in detecting the mutant variants of concern. We probably took it lightly and got into the celebration mode.

The government and the scientific community never actually expect a second wave of this magnitude. The first phase of covid was a year long affair with the first six months seeing the spike and then the next six months witnessing declining numbers and a steady low number of cases. 

Between 27th December 2020 and March 11 , 2021, Covid cases were around 20,000 per day and it was believed the pattern would continue. Here is where there was an oversight in understanding. 

Once the second wave had hit India in April 2021, the healthcare system was stretched to the breaking point and India witnessed a huge shortage of kits, drugs, liquid oxygen, oxygen tanks  and concentrators. Between the 2nd and 3rdweek of April itself, India had recorded 38 lakh new cases. With India literally gasping for oxygen, many of its allies and friends came forward to assist in providing cryogenic oxygen tanks, oxygen concentrators, drugs and kits. 

An important point to note here is that India has adequate oxygen production. However,lack of coordination between state ,centre and healthcare sector topped with transportation issues resulted in this struggle to cope up with the sudden spike in demand for liquid oxygen. 

17 countries came forward and extended their hand of support to India. USA sent ventilators, oxygen concentrators, rapid diagnostic kits and Personal Protective equipment (PPE).

USA also ensured immediate supply of raw materials for the development of Covishield vaccine in India. 

UK helped India with 600 pieces of crucial medical equipment that included  495 oxygen tankers, 120 non invasive and 20 manual ventilators.  Luxembourg and Sweden sent 58 and 120 ventilators respectively.

Australia too sent immediate support package of ventilators, oxygen tanks and PPE Kits. Singapore donated 4 cryogenic oxygen tanks that were airlifted by the Indian Air Force.  High capacity oxygen tankers were airlifted from UAE.

 France and Germany also extended their support with the supply of emergency medical equipment. France offered 8 oxygen generating plants that could be installed quickly along with  5 liquid oxygen containers, 200 electric syringe pushers, 28 respirators and their consumables. While Germany offered help in setting up mobile oxygen production plant and provided 80 million K95 masks.

Russia sent covid assistance in the form of oxygen concentrators and generators. It also announced the supply of 3 to 4 lakh units of Remdesvir Injection, a Covid drug that India was falling short of. Belgium too chipped in to offer 9000 doses of Remdesvir.

 Saudi Arabia shipped 80 Metric tonnes of liquid oxygen to India and Portugal assured 20,000 litres of oxygen per week to India along with 5503 vials of Remdesvir.

Some of the others countries who helped us in this time of grave crisis included Bhutan, Ireland, Romania , Portugal, Hong Kong and Thailand.

Apart from this US Private sector companies like Google, Microsoft , Apple, the US Chamber of Commerce offered assistance to India in several ways. Google allocated Rs 135 Crore of funds to GiveIndia and UNICEF for medical supplies and grants to spread vital information among the masses.

The US India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF) helped with providing 12 ISO containers for oxygen transport. The USISPF through donations from its member companies also sourced 1,00, 000 portable oxygen concentrators for home and hospital use. It also worked towards donation of ICU beds, N 95 masks, Covid test kits and other crucial medical equipment. USISPF with its NGO partners assisted India is setting up medical and vaccination centres on corporate campuses.

Gilead supplied 1,00,000 vials of Remdesivir free of cost to HLL Lifecare Limited. HLL played a pivotal role as a subsidiary of Government of India in Covid 19 containment efforts. HLL is acting as a nodal agency of Union Health and Family Welfare Ministry in the procurement and distribution of medicines and medical equipment.

WHO & UNICEF have been working constantly to procure supplies and equipment including 7000 oxygen concentrators, Covid -19 testing machines, 500 nasal devices and PPE kits.

WHO clearly stated that filling critical gaps in essential medical supplies and managing hospital capacities is the top priority for India in this deadly surge of the second wave of Covid – 19.   

DHL and FEDEX played a major role in inbound logistics and distribution. The process included transportation and consolidation in the sourcing country while addressing pain points as local quality checks and transportation capacity bottlenecks. Next step was inbound transportation while tackling issues as limited and volatile freight capacity, time pressure and difficult ETAs.

This was followed by obtaining clearance from customs and regulations keeping in mind supplier certification , qualification and import regulation changes. Lack of traceability and transparency was another overarching pain point.

India was already witnessing record Covid cases with mounting death toll due to acute oxygen shortage by end of April. As planeloads of medicines, oxygen tanks and ventilators began pouring,it was now time to ensure these supplies reach the ones who need it the most without any further delays.

The health ministry took almost a week to create a streamlined process for distribution of Covid medical supplies to the states. The SOP (Standard Operating Procedure ) guidelines on how to distribute aid was released on May 2 and it did not mention the start date of distribution.

Its important to understand that getting the supplies to a domestic airport or a national port is only half the battle won.There is a long road to traverse after the supplies arrive at the airport or a national port.

So even as the relief airlines or ships arrives, the distribution process thereon is quite complex and involves many stages and ministries. First the medical supplies are received by the Red Cross Society which processes the custom clearance of the goods as per Indian Government guidelines. 

Arriving in different forms, the supplies need to be unpacked and checked and then they are handed over to HLL Lifecare Limited, the government subsidiary that handles and manages the transportation of all these relief medical supplies across India. Areas where critical care load was highest are given priority.

Here is where AWL India came into picture as a private domestic logistic partner of HLL. 

AWL excellently handled the logistics pertaining to oxygen supply chain management in the country.

With its stable local warehousing capacity and experience in local logistics, AWL ensured a stable supply of oxygen and other life saving medical supplies to various states . With its IOT enabled systems, innovative temperature-controlled logistics solutions for healthcare products AWL offered excellent oxygen and drug supply chain management during the pandemic helping save thousands of lives during this crisis.

AWL India also effectively utilized its certification and experience in transportation and warehousing of life science products to aptly fulfill the requirements of medical supply transport.

AWL overcame all transparency issues with its extensive data capabilities. Its high tech“Chakshu“app offered a dashboard for constant, real time tracking of shipment status and monitoring variables that can impact the supply including supplier health, regulations and epidemiology.

The Chakshu dashboard offered all the details related to the consignment with SKU number ensuring complete transparency. From where a consignment is arriving , what all it contains, what needs to be delivered at which location and at what time- every detail can be tracked.

With AWL’s analytics driven warehouse management, close monitoring and constant risk assessment, the medical supplies were successfully delivered to various states. Being a certified medical transporter, it also helped in setting up of oxygen plants by assisting the transport of raw materials. 

AWL India with its last mile, locally tailored and ground distribution models has contributed majorly in getting the critical medical supplies to the hospitals across various states in India.

Learning from the mistakes made during the second wave of Covid 19, India would now need to work on its overall logistic infrastructure and capacity so that we are well prepared in case there is a third wave. High class logistic management will also aid in seamless transportation of vaccines this year as well as annually. This in turn will help us keep rates of re-infection low by slowing down the pace of Corona Virus mutations.

AWL India is a high value supply chain management and logistics provider with unmatched global expertise and world class infrastructure.

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India’s second wave article and permission to publish here provided by Ajay Jha. Originally written for Supply Chain Game Changer and published on July 29, 2021.