Nairobi-headquartered Surgipharm, a sister company of Imperial Managed Solutions East Africa, is a leading distributor of pharma, surgical, medical and allied products established in 1985. In 2017, Imperial Logistics, a wholly-owned division of Imperial Holdings, agreed to acquire a 70 percent stake in Surgipharm. Dr Vijai Maini, managing director, talks on how the company is preparing for Covid-19 vaccine distribution in Kenya after having the audit compliance reports approved by Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.

Pharmaceutical manufacturers heavily depend on their logistics partners once products are dispatched from their end. How Surgipharm acts as a preferred logistics partner for transporting temperature-controlled pharma in Kenya?

Surgipharm has seven qualified pharmacists registered with the Pharmacy and Poisons Board, four of whom are dedicated to regulatory functions and the quality assurance department. For temperature-controlled products, we have developed SOPs under which cold chain management functions are performed.

Products from the suppliers are accompanied by temperature data loggers. Immediately on receipt, the products are transferred to one of its three walk-in cold rooms and the data logger is removed to download the temperature throughout the journey since packing. Any deviation from the required range of 2⁰C-8⁰C is shared with the manufacturer. Manufacturer authorises release of the sale in case of no deviation or slight deviation if acceptable for the efficacy of the product.

All three cold rooms are backed up by two generators. Each room is fitted with two condensers and an alarm system which sends SMS to several people in case of power disruption, power restoration, and temperature exceeding 7⁰C or going below 2.5⁰C or a door is left open for a long period.

Our Mombasa branch can cater Covid-19 vaccine to the entire Kenyan coastline region.

On receipt of an order from a customer, a pre-validated styrofoam carton is placed at the bottom with ice or gel packs pre-frozen for at least 72 hours and a lining of bubble wrap placed on them. Products are removed from the cold room and placed in the carton. Another layer of bubble wrap is placed on them, then more ice packs on top, followed by a layer of bubble wrap, and a temperature logger stored in the cold room. The styrofoam box is placed in a cardboard box, sealed and labelled indicating storage temperature ranges 2⁰C-8⁰C.

The carton is delivered to customers by our fleet in Nairobi or by overnight courier to upcountry towns in Kenya within 24 hours.

Now with Covid-19 vaccines landing in certain parts of Africa, how Surgipharm has enhanced its capability in Kenya to handle these shipments?

For the Covid-19 vaccines, Surgipharm proposes to team up with the Imperial Health Services cold room facility which has a capacity of 5,159.7 cubic metres with an approximate pallet holding of up to 525 bin locations and three backup generators.

We have an approved audit compliance reports from the vaccine suppliers - Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. Our Mombasa branch can cater to the entire Kenyan coastline region.

How have you deployed digital capabilities to track the pharma shipments?

Within Nairobi, we deliver the products using our fleet of delivery vans or motorbikes, depending on the size of the order, which has GPS tracking systems. Our transport manager keeps a tab on these using handheld tablets.

For upcountry, we use reliable security company courier vehicles. They collect the parcels at about 5 in the evening and reach the upcountry towns early the following morning. A tab can be kept through the waybill number issued to us.

Of course, you had been working with the ministry of health among others. but being an Imperial Holding company, did you gain more mileage to achieve customers and related businesses?

The Imperial Health Sciences facility in Nairobi is a logistics business. They deliver the products from companies with who they have an agreement to act as a hub for the East Africa region. For fine distribution to hospitals, pharmacies etc., they deliver to distributors appointed by the manufacturing companies or themselves. Surgipharm acts as a fine distributor and has developed a full complement of customers over the last 35 years since its inception. Apart from Imperial, Surgipharm imports products directly from manufacturers with whom distribution agreements have been entered into.

Few logistics companies are teaming up with drone companies to deliver pharma products to less accessible areas in Africa. Do you have any such plans for last-mile deliveries?

Unless the capability of transport of pharmaceutical products especially cold chain products is approved by the Pharmacy and Poisons Board, it is difficult to imagine the delivery of prescription products through drone technology currently. Our customers are not individual patients who could be residing in less accessible areas. We deliver only to customers who are authorised to sell such products by the Pharmacy and Poisons Board. Some retail pharmacy chains might look into this probability.

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