Medicine supply chain battles as riots hit pharmacies, distributors

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  • Medicine supply chains have been hit by riots, with pharmacies and distributors describing disruptions caused by looting. 
  • Clicks-owned United Pharmaceutical Distributors said it had rolled out a contingency plan to get emergency medicines to hospitals. 
  • The pharmacy regulator says it has received reports of some 90 pharmacies damaged beyond repair, and it is worried about the looting of vaccines. 

Medicine supply chains were disrupted in KwaZulu-Natal as key distributors, wholesalers and pharmacies felt the impact of ongoing violence and looting.

Pharmaceutical retailer Dis-Chem said on Thursday that its pharmacies in the province had remained closed, while Clicks-owned United Pharmaceutical Distributors said its warehouse in Mahogany Ridge, KwaZulu-Natal, had been looted.

On Thursday, Dis-Chem's vaccination sites, pharmacies and drive-through testing stations in KwaZulu-Natal also remained closed due to high levels of unrest in the province.

Dis-Chem CEO Ivan Saltzman described the situation as "very fluid". The group's priority is to protect its people and assets in order to keep providing an essential service, he said.

"However, the supply chain is disrupted and we are unable to move stock from our Durban distribution centre to our stores," said Saltzman in a statement. 

Parts of the N3 highway have been closed as protestors torched trucks over the weekend.

Dis-Chem said it was too soon to assess the financial impact of the unrest.

Emergency supplies for hospitals

Trevor McCoy, United Pharmaceutical Distributors Managing Executive, said a business continuity plan had been implemented to bring in supplies and emergency medicines from other regional sites, particularly clinical medicines for hospitals.

United Pharmaceutical Distributors, which is a full-line wholesaler and supplies pharmacies, hospitals, dispensing doctors, health services and affiliated healthcare channels, said it is working closely with local authorities and private security companies to protect its assets and staff.

"It is too early to determine the full extent of the damage and financial impact as the situation remains volatile," said the pharmaceutical distributor in a statement.

Clicks said though the number fluctuates daily, as of Thursday a total of 129 of its stores had been closed, 52 looted, and 47 vaccine sites shut down.

This included 31 store closures and vaccine site shutdowns in Gauteng, and 85 store closures and 27 vaccine site shutdowns in KwaZulu-Natal.


Saltzman said that, despite the civil unrest, Dis-Chem was still focused on administering Covid-19 vaccinations to all eligible people.

It planned to go ahead with four new mass vaccination sites before the end of July, it said – one in Mpumalanga, one in Gauteng, and two in the Western Cape.

But pharmacy regulator, the South African Pharmacy Council (SAPC), said it was concerned about the looting of Covid-19 vaccines from pharmacies in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.

SAPC Chief Executive Officer Vincent Tlala said reports had been received that more than 90 pharmacies had been destroyed and looted beyond revival, with KwaZulu-Natal being the hardest hit.

"We urge those who looted these medicines and health products to not use them. We are further disappointed at the possible loss of employment," said Tlala. 

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