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How pharmacies are coping up with the lockdown The larger question for most pharmacies is the availability of essential drugs, inability of the staff to commute and seeking police permissions to deliver medicines

By Arushi Jain

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During the lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak in the country, only essential services, including grocery stores and pharmacies, are be in service for the public.

Fears of reaching stage three and community transmission have increased significantly. Pharmacies have ensured several steps in this regard.

In this taxing and uncertain times, our staff members have gone above and beyond to help the community to get their essential medicines from our pharmacies. Despite the lockdown our endeavor has been to comfort people who walk into our stores and provide them with the required drugs and most essential products such as sanitizers, masks, gloves, handwashes to maintain hygiene.

But the larger question for most pharmacies is the availability of essential drugs, inability of the staff to commute, seeking police permissions to deliver medicines to people in need and above all living in fear and stress of COVID contact because it is novel and has no cure.

Pharmacies are facing trouble in the transportation of medicines from manufacturers to distributors. Adding to the worry is that the vehicle is arbitrarily stopped by the police and disallowed permission because of red zones and sudden outbreaks in an area. Scarcity in supplies is hitting patients the most. Pharmacies are getting curfew passes but the supply of medicines will return to normal once the transportation system is back on track.

Passes are received for a few vehicles that are being sanctioned for the delivery of medicines. To cope up with this scenario, we are sending out delivery boys to pick up medicines from distributors and also have backup delivery partners for pickup and delivery in case of emergencies.

Pharmacies are also facing financial crunches because of this outbreak. We are still unclear about the full economic impact of this black swan event that is still not clear. This pandemic is going to shower its impact on the healthcare sector also as we lack in so many resources. Transportation challenges, short supplies, less footfall, inability of staff to commute —all come with a considerable cost to pharmacies. Deploying special resources amid the lockdown has affected liquidity too. Temporary hold on various expenses in anticipation of a continued lock down is helping to ward off current liquidity situation.

To promote health, safety and consistency for our associates and customers, we promote social distancing markers, follow medical guidelines and avoid putting undue risk on our people and community members by limiting crowding and close contacts. To secure the hygiene and sanity of its staff is also very important. To ensure this we are providing face masks, gloves, head covers and sanitisers to employees at stores and distribution centers, to better protect workers against the spread of COVID-19. In case the situation remains tense, we expect to implement "1-out-1-in basis' which may further ensure safety of our workers and customers.

In times of stress, low MRP of generics solve the complex pricing problem associated with branded drugs and will make a positive impact in reducing out of pocket expenditure for patients and society at large. A close public and private partnership during this health crisis should not be overlooked. This close participation will help in solving a public health emergency crisis and will reduce out of pocket expenditure significantly and provide a much needed relief to the negative economic situation which looms large because of the virus.

The new government rule which enables smooth home delivery of medicines by a pharmacist from a retail outlet will benefit many especially our senior population which virtually lives alone. Pharmacies should be considered as an integral part of the healthcare infrastructure and government should allow tax breaks on essential supplies, rebates, incentives, subsidies to make sure that pharmacies thrive and are able to provide essentials medicines to the last leg.

As the COVID-19 situation continues to develop, we will continue to listen to advise from medical experts and consider how we can best serve people while helping slow the spread of virus. The health and safety of our community and team members while ensuring availability of essential items is what matters the most.

Arushi Jain

Executive Director, StayHappi Pharmacy

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