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Wading through the waves of COVID-19 – The Goan story

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The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an unprecedented slow down all over the nation. Several industries have been hit hard, and even the India Pharma Inc faced several hurdles like shortage of manpower, supply chain disruptions. As one of the major hotspots for pharma manufacturing and trade, the authorities in the state of Goa followed a string of prompt and proactive measures to ensure seamless delivery of necessary medicines to all and smooth operation running of the pharma plants in the state. Jyoti Sardesai, Director, FDA, Goa writes about these measures that were taken during the lockdown which has resulted in the Goa Pharma industry now being running at 95 per cent capacity, the highest in the country

An elderly lady, residing in Betul, a remote area in South Goa, called the essential medicine helpline set up by the Directorate of Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) and requested for a supply run of her essential, daily-need medicines which she used to get from the local Primary Health Center regularly. This happened during the lockdown period, when the OPDs were closed across Goa due to the Janata curfew being imposed to fight COVID-19. She had almost exhausted her stock of medicines, and was very anxious for their supply through the PHC as she could not afford to buy from pharmacies.

On her call, the FDA Director, contacted the DHS Director for the same, and on that very day, even though it was late in the evening, medicines were delivered by PHC to the elderly lady through a special ambulance. After hearing about this senior citizen living alone, police personnel visited her and provided her with essential commodities. In addition, the talathi of that area also visited her place, and contacted her neighbour who takes her care, shared his contact number with a request to call him if any help was needed by the old lady.
This is one of the many examples to emulate on how the government machinery in Goa acted promptly to help those in distress and mitigate their hardships during the lockdown period.

Knowing the importance and the magnitude of Pharma Industry and the necessity of medicines in the day- to-day life, especially the requirements for regular and essential drugs and medical devices required to detect, treat and prevent COVID-19, the Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi held a video conference with the heads of pharmaceutical companies and discussed about the various aspects of medicines and medical devices. During the conversation,the PM asked the medicine retailers and pharmacists to maintain constant vigil and ensure that black marketing and hoarding of medicines is avoided, and the supply of essentials is maintained.

The Goa FDA, having realised this in advance, had played a proactive role to ensure that all the pharmaceutical manufacturing units located in Goa, and also the pharma wholesalers and retailers, would be in a position to start their operations within the minimum possible time.
The first step was to ensure that all the pharma, and their related units, obtained the necessary permits and travel passes for their staff and workers on war footing.

Having realised the need and importance of immediately restarting the operations in these units, and the magnitude of man hours that would be required for the district administrations to issue individual passes, a trust-based approach was followed and the District Collectors accordingly signed-off the authorised signatories of these Units to issue travel passes to their individual staffs.

The District Collectors gave priority to pharma units and pharma trade, and would often work till midnight to issue these authorisation letters so that these units were ready to start the operations without any delay.

A team comprising District Collectors, the President of Goa Pharmaceutical Manufacturers’s Association and FDA Director worked in tandem to achieve this.

To remove certain hindrances which were coming in the way of smooth functioning of the Pharma units, under the guidance of the Chief Secretary, a special task force was constituted headed by the Principal Secretary, alongwith the Secretary Revenue, two District Superintendent of Police, the Director FDA and the Commissioner of Labour.

Numerous issues related to absenteeism of staff, their movement, hurdles created by the locals not allowing the employees to resume their duties in the apprehension of contacting the infection- were resolved forthwith by the co-operation and active participation of all the bodies concerned. The role of SPs in handling the road blockages by the villagers is to be specially appreciated.

In order to boost the morale of the employees, Goa FDA appealed to the manufacturers of medicines, medical equipment and ancillary products, and the entire allied supply chain covering transportation, stockists, Distributors, Retail Chemists to remain operational throughout Goa. This appeal received good response from the employees of Pharma companies, and the industry which was running at 15 per cent of capacity on the third day of lockdown, has now reached 95 per cent, which is much higher than any other state in the country. A special whatsapp group was created of the above mentioned top level officers for ease and speed of communication.

One should not forget the ceaseless and tireless efforts of the FDA during the lockdown period. A dedicated 24×7 helpline number was launched by them under the guidance of the Health Secretary and within no time, they received more than 1200 calls to inquire about medicines, doctors and other medical facilities. The chemists and druggists cooperated extremely well.

Despite their shortage, staff and medicines were home delivered to many needy and senior citizens. The efforts of FDA were well appreciated by the general public, migrants and stranded tourists. A call requesting for supply of medicines to a bed-ridden patient at Yellapur, Karnataka was also attended by the Goa FDA with the support and cooperation from North Goa Collector. The efforts of the entire chain of officials right from Mamlatdar North Goa ,Dy Collector, Goa Police and Karnataka Police in ensuring supplies to that patient through State borders, is laudable.

Since the Pharmaceutical companies fall under the purview of essential services, it was not difficult for the concerned authorities to grant the requisite permissions for smooth functioning of the manufacturing units. Goa FDA realized the importance of ancillary Industries and facilitated their routine support to run the Pharmaceutical units. The Government authorities were kind enough to issue requisite permits even to ancillary Industries during the present COVID-19 outbreak.

No patient should suffer from the shortage of medicines, and keeping this in view, the Goa FDA appealed to employees of various pharmaceutical companies to attend workplaces and contribute to the task of manufacturing medicines, medical equipments and ancillary products in the interest of patients. Further it was also impressed upon the Managements of the Pharma Companies to take all adequate protective measures, so that the employees feel safe and confident to attend to their duties at work places. The Government Authorities were successful in creating confidence and also succeeded in motivating the employees during such an emergency situation.

It is awe inspiring how the staff of the Pharmaceutical Units in Goa and other related companies, as well as the Pharma trade, stood together in support of the stupendous efforts put in by our frontline warriors such as doctors, nurses and numerous other healthcare workers by ensuring the continuous supply of life-saving medicines, medical equipments and ancillary products to the patients and the public. This has resulted in providing much needed relief to the people during this global pandemic crisis.

A Verna–Goa based company Molbio Diagnostics was granted one of the first approvals by the regulators to manufacture RT–PCR based COVID -19 Diagnostic kits. These Trunat kits are already being widely used for the COVID-19 detection.

Another company, having eight pan-India manufacturing locations, the Tulip Diagnostics, an IVD major based at Verna, Goa, got the nod to manufacture new rapid test kits for COVID-19.
We are proud of both these organisations.

The people were asked to use face masks and hand-sanitizers during the ongoing COVID-19 period. The Goa FDA, realising the need for speedy and large volume manufacturing of sanitizers, and in order to tide over the prevailing shortage, granted manufacturing licences to 16 Distilleries for manufacturing alcohol based hand sanitizers in line with the directives from Central Government. Presently,there are a total of 22 licensed manufacturing firms for manufacturing of hand sanitizers in the state of Goa, and so far they have manufactured more than six lakh litres of hand sanitizers, in bulk packs as well as retail packs.
Goa is known as a pharma hub with regards to the medicine manufacturing business in our country. The medicines manufactured in our state cater to local as well as domestic and international markets.

The total turnover recorded during the previous financial year of the pharmaceutical sector was Rs. 17,000 crores. Goa contributes more than 10 percent of pharmaceutical exports from the entire India. The three main drugs currently being used in the management of COVID-19 , Paracetamol Tablets, Azithromycin Tablets and Hydroxychloroquine tablets are among the products manufactured in our state. Goa is home to some of the most modern and state-of-the-art pharma manufacturing facilities in our country.

Goa FDA has been proactive and constantly striving to ensure that there is no shortage of essential medicines for COVID and also,hygiene products during the lockdown period. Another most important commodity -baby food- was kept in excess stocks, to meet the needs of infants.

The Goa FDA has also been taking cognisance of messages posted on various social media platforms, regarding the availability of medicines, hygiene products, life-saving equipment in our state, and responding in a timely manner to resolve the issues, and ensure distribution and supply of the essentials. The Director, officers and the staff have been working as a team to issue requisite licences on a war-footing manner.

Besides all of the above, another vital activity that the FDA has been involved in is the collecting and assimilating of providing the real time data to the state Government and the various central government agencies like CDSCO, NPPA, Consumer Affairs Deptt regarding the manufacturing , movement and availability of essential medicines, diagnostic kits, essential commodities in the state on regular basis -sometimes even several times a day- so that the right policies are framed and decisions taken regarding availability of these items to the public.

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