Feb 22, 2017: Tracking the journey of a pharmaceutical product from the time it leaves the manufacturer to the time it reaches the end consumer is a complicated and risky process. Vulnerabilities such as poor visibility and temperature excursions can lead to a number of outcomes far more costly than a damaged reputation. Bad deliverables can be the difference between life and death. More often than not, pharmaceuticalcompanies are prone to setbacks when weak points infiltrate the chain of custody.

Given this backdrop, the Pharma Air Shippers Forum hosted by Brussels Airport on Day 1 of Air Cargo Africa 2017 brought in different industry stakeholders to deliberate the theme of “Pharma by air – establishing end to end integrity”.

Johan Leunen, Cargo Marketing Manager, Brussels Airport Company, who was moderating the session put forth an important question before the shippers on the panel. When it comes to shipping pharmaceuticals by air, what do you consider to be the weakest links and the key concerns?

According to Ryan Viegas, Head of Logistics – APAC, Teva, the highest risk would be at the transit points where shipments are vulnerable to temperature excursions. “Our contention is to monitor the temperature, split shipments by air because quite often you see some of the pallets being split in transit,” he said.

Viegas added that airports are a “black hole” since there is no clue of what is happening inside the airport. “While I do agree, this has something to do with security but when it comes to pharmaceutical products, I think it is our personal interest because it deals with lives hence we need more clarity so that we know what is happening with respect to the temperature,” he pointed out.

Jonathan Brand, Head ZAX Markets, Sandoz SA agreed that while integrity of the product remains key, it is also the communication that is of prime importance. Brand further stressed on the need for lesser documentation to clear customs. “You can end up with excessive documents if you don’t have the right documentation. This is driven by the complexities especially in a continent like Africa with every country demanding different documentation. They don’t fit into a standardised shipping process – where for instance in Europe, you have a standardised shipping process for all the EU countries. For me, it is the communication, documentation and the integrity. How quick you can get through the supply chain, the quicker you get to the patient and you are ensured of the integrity,” he highlighted.

Brand recounted an incident where one of their shipments went to one of the African countries and the recipient wasn’t aware of the shipment sitting at the airport. The recipient found out about it only three months later. “Is that cargo of sufficient quality for it to now be utilized? That puts a lot of stress on the business as well as on the recipients of the stock. So, it comes back to continuous communication where everybody in the process is aware of the shipment.”

In agreement with Viegas and Brand, Uttam Prakash, Regional Demand Planner, Ranbaxy SA added that being a manufacturer of generic medicines, 95 per cent of their shipments are sent via sea while only 5 per cent are shipped via air where the criteria of selecting air shipment is mainly cost, lead time and the credibility airline. “Being in the manufacturing of generic medicines, we can’t afford to book an expensive airline,” he said.

Viegas insisted that credibility of the service provider is very important. “That means they do what they say and say what they do. Also, compliance is top of mind. Compliance, service and then comes cost – are the three key criteria before selecting a service provider,” he stressed.

As a freight forwarder, Remo Hanselmann, Regional Director - Africa, World Courier vouched for choosing a reliable airline with a good product when it comes to dealing with time sensitive shipments. “Whenever there is a time definite product we ensure to use a reliable airline with a good product to handle the shipment than worry about the cost. We cannot compromise on quality where lives can be at stake.”Hanselmann also mentioned about the use of Track and Trace solutions for maintaining end-to-end visibility.

To add to that, Peter van Domburg, Branch Manager BeLux, Expeditors said that choosing service providers who are GDP or CEIV certified adds to the credibility factor. “The initiative started by airports such as Brussels of getting the cargo community together and being CEIV certified is a big step forward as it helps increase end to end visibility.”

Nathan De Valck, Chairman, Pharma.Aero explained the essence and the methodology involved in obtaining the CEIV certification. Valck also spoke about strengthening the pharma hub by collaborating with other airports around the world who share a common goal of strengthening pharma certified trade lanes and extending pharma cold supply chains to reach new international markets.

“Even though CEIV certification is of prime importance, what is more important is compliance and the day-to-day execution of the CEIV programme,” added Viegas.

Alban Francois, Vice President Global Cargo, Brussels Airlines insisted that it is the right process, the right tool and the right mindset, and above all, collaboration which is of prime importance. “At Brussels Airlines, we have a feedback system in place where we record feedback from our customers as well as from every single member involved in the chain of custody and it helps us come up with a better process,” he added.

Jimmy Nares, Section Chief of Aviation Marketing, Miami International Airport; Alban Francois, Vice President Global Cargo, Brussels Airlines and Abel Alemu, Regional Manager, South Africa, Ethiopian Airlines spoke of the best practices they follow to maintain the integrity of the pharmaceutical supply chain.

The forum concluded on a high note with all panelists agreeing on the fact that visibility across end-to-end supply chains remains a top priority.

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