India fast tracks its medical cold chain infrastructure

IoT has been a powerful tool to facilitate the storage and supply of plasma vaccines and Covid-19 mRNA vaccines without delays and temperature inaccuracies.

US, Biological Researches
The Ambassador also referred to that very laboratory as an example of successful cooperation in terms of new diseases prevention and training of specialists. (Image: Representational)

By Jesal Doshi

India has emerged as the world’s largest generic drug supplier by volume, contributing 20% of the total pharmaceutical exports. It satisfies 50% of the global demand for vaccines post-pandemic. The phenomenal growth in the country’s pharmaceutical industry is backed by technological innovation and investments in robust logistics.

India’s pharma sector is currently valued at $50 bn, projected to reach $65 bn by 2024 and $120 bn by 2030. The exponential growth trajectory of the industry continually stands against its infrastructural loopholes and propels optimisation. Despite its rapid growth, the sector still faces challenges that must be overcome, including supply chain complexity and technological barriers. 

Challenges in the Indian pharma infrastructure

Bio Spectrum described the Indian pharmaceutical supply chain as “crippled with end-to-end complexity”. In the Logistics Performance Index 2018 report by the World Bank, India ranked 44 with a score of 2.91. Such a poor score can be attributed to supply chain opacities and vulnerabilities.

The key challenges dominating pharma logistics are overreliance on road freight, unfavourable geographic conditions, poor cold chain infrastructure, and lack of a sustainable network. Over 71% of the Indian pharma distribution are dependent on roads, exposing biopharmaceuticals to degradation due to uneven topography and high temperature. Moreover, nearly 20% of temperature-sensitive healthcare products are damaged on roadways due to deficient cold chains.

Cold chain infrastructure in India suffered from high capital costs, outdated technology, opaque network, lack of skilled resources, poor reverse logistics, and extensive complexity. Over 3,500 companies highly fragmented the sector, contributing only 8-10% to the global market. The coronavirus pandemic disrupted the prevailing supply chain infrastructure in the country and compelled it to innovate and simplify. With global biopharma cold chain product sales reaching US$440 billion by 2024, the Indian cold chain market will likely exhibit a CAGR of 14.72% during 2022-27.

Trends in cold chain management

Pre-pandemic, the cold chain network in India was still in its infancy. The soaring demand for vaccines and rapid distribution requirements during the Covid emergency helped transform the sector and manifest development. Storage and transportation facilities evolved with cutting-edge devices and optimised routes. Post-calamity, cold chain logistics embraces the following innovations to meet global demands and align to its growth curve.

Sustainable systems

Medications and vaccines require strictly regulated temperatures to stay potent. Their temperature demands vary according to the composition, with live virus vaccines thriving in the 2C to 8C spectrum and mRNA vaccines requiring as low as -70C to remain efficacious.

Owing to the broad temperature range, Ultra Low Freezers (ULTs) are gaining importance in storing vaccines and preventing spoilage. They support novel features like uniform temperature distributions, efficient monitoring systems, and rapid pulldown, holdover and recovery periods. Moreover, innovative freezers, refrigerators, plasma freezers, blood bank refrigerators, and transport boxes preserve and distribute temperature-sensitive products to remote healthcare centres.

With technological innovation comes a threat to sustainability. Devices emitting hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) have 23,000 times greater Global Warming Potential (GWP) and Ozone Depletion Potential (ODP) than CO2. They are refrained from operating by US SNAP and EU F-Gas regulations. Moreover, the Indian supply chains suffer from electricity interruptions in remote areas. Sustainable devices with green refrigerants and solar power-driven transport boxes are thus the need of the hour.

Remote sensing

Extensive vaccination programs require temperature-regulated equipment in healthcare centres. These cutting-edge medical-grade devices have advanced cooling technology and design features like gaskets and insulations to maintain a stable and uniform intended temperature. They also have a superior hold over and door opening recovery to prevent temperature fluctuations with the external environment.

The optimal functioning, opening and closing of lids and doors, and storage temperatures of the devices can be monitored remotely by healthcare workers with software solutions and web-based interfaces like the B Connected software and Remote Temperature Monitoring Systems (RTMS). The refrigerators are installed with audio-visual alarm systems to alert the healthcare staff for a quick response to adverse conditions. Furthermore, integrated voltage stabilisers ensure that voltage fluctuations in the power supply of ‘last mile locations’ do not hamper the functioning of these sensitive devices. Real-time GPS positioning can be used to track the accurate orientation of the equipment for effective functioning.

Smart tracking

The supply chain in India aims at simplifying its operations and enhancing visibility. Shipping routes are optimised to avoid traffic congestion, delays, and damage to sensitive biologicals due to hits and vibrations. Advanced technologies like IoT, robotics and AI automate the supply chain and meet consumer demands.

IoT has been a powerful tool to facilitate the storage and supply of plasma vaccines and Covid-19 mRNA vaccines without delays and temperature inaccuracies. Predictive analytics via AI and ML analyses consumer behaviour and forecasts potential supply chain risks to enhance its overall efficiency. Transportation can also be traced with RFID tags to streamline inventory management and reduce manual errors.

Final thoughts
The Indian cold chain market expects to reach 3637.4 Billion INR by 2027. It addresses the infrastructural lacunae with advanced technologies and optimised route planning. By implementing sustainability to the state-of-the-art medical-grade devices, monitoring their operations through remote sensors, and enhancing transparency through software solutions, the country can ensure seamless and secured deliveries of medical-grade products.

(The author is a Deputy CEO, B Medical Systems. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the

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First published on: 21-03-2023 at 11:00 IST
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