As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, so must our response and the solutions we put forward. Supply chain management has become increasingly complex during this crisis, with multi-country disruptions and logistics challenges that have the potential to impact when and how patients all over the world receive care.


Patients managing chronic conditions need access to lifesaving medications, health professionals need essential supplies, and companies are working to continue their global operations. At Access Accelerated, we have the needs of people living with non-communicable diseases (NCDs) front of mind, and recognize that a reliable supply chain is crucial for these individuals to maintain continuity of care, especially as they face higher risk of severe COVID-19-related illness and death.


Supply chain is one of three areas of focus for our initiative, because we know the holistic perspective created by uniting the expertise of our member companies can accelerate solutions. Multisector collaboration will play an important role as countries work to build back better supply chains in the wake of the pandemic.


We connected with Dr. Claus Runge from member company, Bayer, to learn more about how to navigate supply chain management during COVID-19.


Dr. Runge is Global Head of Market Access, Public Affairs & Sustainability at Bayer Pharmaceuticals. He has 19 years of experience working in the pharmaceutical industry, and is a pharmacist and health economist by training. Read on to learn more about his perspective on how the pharmaceutical industry rose to the challenge of COVID-19, and how partnerships made a difference along the way, with a focus on the future of supply chain management.


In your view, how has Bayer and the entire pharmaceutical industry performed in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, particularly as the burden of NCDs continues to grow?

All in all, I believe the industry did quite well. Supply interruptions were not the rule but the exception, and we at Bayer were particularly lucky since we witnessed no interruptions whatsoever. We saw a steep decrease in services to patients with NCDs when health care professional (HCP) interventions were involved, but this was hardly caused by a lack of available products. Providing personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks was important in the first wave of the pandemic, and we tried to support our local partners during that time as best we could. And we continue to support our partners, especially those serving people living with NCDs.


For example, as part of the framework of the Ghana Heart Initiative (GHI), Bayer and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) donated 3000 examination gloves, 200 protective goggles, 200 protective gowns, 200 face shields, 2000 surgical masks and 2000 particulate respirators (N95) to Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra and Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital in Kumasi. GHI works to improve risk assessment and management of cardiovascular diseases at tertiary, secondary and primary levels of care in public health facilities in Ghana. The global COVID-19 pandemic hit the project and its activities harshly, and providing PPE was one of many ways for us to rise to the challenge. We have many examples like this, but overall the COVID-19 pandemic remains, of course, a pressure test for our production sites, our supply chain activities, and of course, our partners in low- and middle-income countries.


What initiatives has Bayer implemented in its manufacturing sites and supply chain to cope with the crisis?

A pandemic SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) is in place, defining the behavior and measurements that need to be pursued during a pandemic crisis, and employees are regularly trained. Right at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bayer assured employees it would do everything possible to cut off the chain of infection. This meant home offices for those who didn’t necessarily have to be on the campus or sites. Additionally, working shifts have been separated so that colleagues from different shifts don’t meet. There was no interruption in our production and all shifts were able to take place as planned. Transport area teams have also been separated. This keeps us in good stead.


Due to Bayer’s risk assessment and mitigation measures, all critical sourced products have been secured, either by having several suppliers or through existing safety stocks. Sometimes producing materials, such as disinfectant, on our own was another option. Having a global sourcing and production network did not cause any problems, rather, it helped us mitigate risks by having multiple sourcing options.


Long before COVID-19, LMICs have faced supply chain challenges, especially at the last mile. How is Bayer helping address these challenges in under-resourced settings? What role can the private sector play in filling gaps?

Within countries we did not experience supply interruptions due to COVID-19. The structure of local warehouses in the countries where we are present helped a lot during these times. Acting locally with local organizations who know the rules and business helped ensure that we could meet our capabilities to supply patients. The private sector has expertise when it comes to handling complex supply chains and manufacturing situations. Bayer collaborates closely with institutions and multi-stakeholder groups like the Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition to connect local and global supply chains, for instance for Family Planning products. After all, the private sector should not be responsible for filling gaps but should be a partner and supporter in order to improve systems.


In the wake of COVID-19, what is the future of supply chain management? What considerations need to be made for low- and middle-income countries? For example, cold chain capacity may be severely limited in some settings.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a discussion on the efficiency of the current pharmaceutical supply chain. It is critical not to put any broad constraints on the supply chain that could be disruptive and have the unintended consequence of leading to widespread shortages. Therefore, governments should not impose barriers to trade – including export restrictions, supply chain mandates and domestic production or purchasing requirements – that impede complex supply chains. Localization of production is not the answer in a global and open economy.


Logistics was one of the sensitive areas during the peak of the pandemic. For instance, it was difficult to get flights from Europe to non-European destinations. In the future, we will investigate more transportation options. Different routes to various destinations should be validated, particularly for products which are sensitive to moisture and temperature excursions.


Click here for more information on how Access Accelerated and our member companies are working to strengthen supply chains in low- and middle-income countries.