Condoms top pharmacy sales in Mumbai as Asian condom supply chain bottlenecks

Last week, a survey by online delivery service provider Dunzo, which operates in India’s biggest cities, found that condoms had topped pharmacy sales in Mumbai, India’s largest city. Pregnancy kits and the pill also topped sales in other cities. Elsewhere in India, shopkeepers have reported a 25-35% rise in condom sales, as well as a breaking down of social taboos surrounding women buying condoms.

Last month it was reported that Malaysian manufacturer Karex Bhd, which produces one in five condoms globally, had stopped production entirely for over a week due to the lockdown in Malaysia. After the halt in production, 50% of Karex Bhd’s employees were allowed to return to factories, but that still has created a shortfall of 100 million condoms.

A worker tests condoms at Karex Bhd’s factor in Malaysia. Credit: Reuters

Karex Bhd supplies to brands such as Durex, national healthcare systems such as the UK’s NHS, and aid programmes such as the UN Population Fund. The UN this month sounded the alarm, warning that only 50-60% of its condom supplies are currently being met due to supply chain disruptions. The UN warned shortage of condoms could lead to a spike in unintended pregnancies, as well as a rise in unsafe abortions and STIs and STDs.

To mitigate the shortfall, Thai Nippon Rubber Industry in Thailand is planning to produce up to 1.9 billion condoms this year, a 27% rise from its average annual output. The company is using its latex stockpiles which it had built up in the event of a leaf disease hurting natural rubber supply. The factory is considered an essential business and has been allowed to continue to operate. In China, HBM Protections, which also makes over one billion condoms per year, has reported production is back to normal and it plans to triple manufacturing lines by the end of the year.

A recovery in production does not mean supply will be met right away, as many bottlenecks in supply chains remain blocked. As we face a strain in global supply, Dr Rebecca Brightman, assistant clinical professor of obstetrics, gynaecology, and reproductive medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, has some advice. She told Health that she advises not to hoard condoms at these times, as condoms continue to be available on platforms like Amazon. If you are worried about your supply, Dr Brightman recommends you contact your GP or relevant health services. They will be able to advise you on how best to access condoms and relieve any anxieties you may have about supplies where you are.

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