During the ongoing pandemic, the supply chain has emerged as the principal player in ensuring that medical care and services are restocked and available throughout lockdowns. The effects of the second wave of COVID-19 were devastating in rural India because people were either unable to travel to medical facilities for treatment or were left unattended due to overcrowded healthcare facilities. Last mile delivery of COVID-19 vaccines and drugs was further complicated by the need to store them at low temperatures.
With the seventh largest surface area in the world and extreme topography, India experiences acute logistical challenges in maintaining cold chain supply through the length and breadth of the country. Ensuring safe movement and storage of pharmaceutical products and vaccines requires adequate chain infrastructure, the latest technologies support and expertise. Most private players in cold-chain logistics have, so far, focused on metros and Tier 1 cities, while smaller towns and villages have relied on unorganized sectors and old distribution channels.
In this context, AWL India, one of the leading providers of supply chain solutions, was approached in 2020 by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, to ensure an uninterrupted supply of healthcare essentials, such as syringes, gloves, PPE, and other life-saving drugs and surgical materials vital for COVID-19 frontline workers and healthcare providers across the country. This encompassed the responsibility of restocking all the fast-moving medical essentials to prevent supply shortage and ensuring Supply Chain Visibility (the ability to track the real-time location and status of the inventory as it moves through the supply chain).
AWL rose to this challenge by developing a seamless pan-India network of climate-controlled warehouses to ensure equitable delivery of COVID-19 equipment and other medical supplies across the country.
AWL has expanded beyond vaccines and is handling other medical relief material like ventilator, oxygen machines, medicines etc. For this, the end-to-end supply chain has been remodelled to fit the complete healthcare service range and not just vaccines and drugs. AWL has thus far delivered 43 crore medical equipment and drug cargo across the country, benefiting eight crore people.
To enhance scale of operations for ensuring last-mile delivery, AWL empanelled third-party distributors to penetrate hilly and tribal areas of northeast India that have low levels of logistic service penetration. 750 medical consignments have already been delivered to remote geographical areas of the country.
With support from SAMRIDH, AWL has covered the operational expenses for the expansion of temperature-controlled warehouses. SAMRIDH has further helped AWL use cash collateral to secure additional commercial capital without blocking its own funds. The savings realized by AWL through SAMRIDH’s partial risk guarantee enabled the business to expand its operations and reach newer geographies. AWL’s collaboration with SAMRIDH enabled expansion of cold storage supply chain to 8-10 locations and ambient storage supply chain to 70 locations, covering 550 districts across India. As of July 2022, AWL has delivered 4 crore COVID-19 vaccines across the country. With the aid of SAMRIDH, AWL has managed to reduce logistics cost – from the current supply chain mark-up of 18-20% down to 10-12% through reduced wastage of critical medicines and vaccines by distribution of temperature-controlled cargo through its supply chain network.
The AWL-SAMRIDH partnership, through its end-to-end supply chain management, has so far hired more than 800 individuals at 765 facilities and engaged 450 local vendors for handling and distributing the medical and pharmaceutical cargo to various locations.
The cold chain industry is still nascent in India, but an aggressive growth is forecast by ISHRAE – Indian Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers. The pharmaceutical cold chain segment is expected to become more organised and attract more institutional funds, as seen from growth of AWL-SAMRIDH collaboration in this domain.