In recent years, the number of medicines delivered and kept in special storage conditions have been on the rise. Most of them consist of biological medicines, requiring a strict temperature range of +2°C to +8°C for storage, with +5°C being the optimal temperature. Both the effectiveness and safety of medicines depends on the environment. Thus all temperature requirements should be implemented by all members of the logistics supply chain impeccably.
To borrow a well-known principal, the cold chain is only as reliable as its weakest link. If during transportation or storage, the temperature or any other conditions are not kept at least by one of the partners, we find ourselves in a situation where the effectiveness of the cold chain is zero.
Biological medicines are one of the most complex platforms in the pharmaceutical industry. Despite the continuing need of serum and vaccines in countries across Central Asia, the region has developed a need for other biological medicines, such as plasma expanders, insulin and anti-viral drugs.
For Central Asian countries, we can identify several key obstacles that prevent cold chain requirements from being met. They are as follows:
Lack of Clear Regulations
While there are clear requirements on transportation and storage vaccines, the guidelines for biologics (that need to be stored in the +2°C to +8°C range) are less clear. Thus, there is an obvious need for clarification on cold chain requirements in local legislation.
Multilevel Procedures of Customs Clearance
Getting lots of documents to authorize a customs clearance for pharmaceutical shipments extends the time of storage in the customs warehouse. This may cause temperature excursions, damaging shipped biologics.
Multistage Distributor Scheme
In the supply chain, there are many players in the distribution path from the manufacturer to the final consumer. Since the products go through numerous partners and reload several times, it’s important to consider external factors that could impact the shipment, such as different modes of transport and seasonal weather changes. The shipment of pharmaceuticals is a delicate process that goes through a complicated logistics chain that can be exposed to high temperature variations.
The Lack of Special Service Providers
The most obvious example is the need for an independent validation of vehicles and warehouses that come with special cooling equipment, to ensure compliance with cold chain requirements.
Cold Chain Logistics in Central Asia
If cold chain logistics can be subdivided into parts, in Central Asia we can highlight the following basic problems:
1. Cold Chain Warehouses
- Limited equipment options (e.g. cooling chambers)
- Lack of Class A 3PL warehouses
- Lack of validation standards on cooling chambers
2. Local Transport as a part of Cool Chain
- Limited number of transportation companies specializing in the delivery of pharmaceuticals
- Lack of required equipment (refrigerated chambers are not equipped with data loggers)
- Lack of experience in the transportation of thermolabile products
3. The Problem of “Last Mile” Distribution
- Addressing the “Manufacturer – Distributor” chain – Despite signed agreements and instructions, the rules governing cold chain management aren’t properly enforced
- Crucially, it is the “Distributor – Hospital, Drugstore, Patient” pathway that is the weakest part in the cold chain
Assessing the Cold Chain Problem
Ultimately, there are several challenges facing the cold chain in Asia including, but not limited to:
- Transit time is restricted by the validity period of cooling elements
- Multimodal transportation (combining road and air transport, several re-loadings en route without the usage of a licensed HUB)
- Inadequate training of the staff involved in the storage process and transportation of medicines
- The inability to make quick decisions because of the multi-transport chain, under the operational management of different organizations
- Low tariffs on the transportation of temperature-sensitive goods in the EU and the CIS. This is owed in part to tough competition and the manufacturer’s desire to save money on transportation. Forwarding agents are forced to provide low-class machines during transportation over long distances
- The usage of vehicles without proper maintenance increases the risk of damaging refrigerated equipment during transit, exacerbating the inability to fix the problem quickly
- Risk of change in temperature during transportation
- Globalization, which leads to the geographical expansion of the delivery regions
- Absence of own warehouses for cargo consolidation
- Number of warehouses does not have pharmaceutical licenses
- Lack of own transport for prompt delivery
- The problem of temperature control and monitoring during transportation
Optimizing Cold Chain Logistics in Central Asia
Are there possible solutions in order to ensure qualified supply in the cold chain to Central Asia?
It is possible to avoid these problems by choosing specialized pharma logistical providers. It’s important to seek out companies with their own certified HUB for the delivery, storage, consolidation and shipment of pharmaceutical goods.
Crucially, such service providers must have on hand custom warehouse services with local airports. All these in combination ensures the timely delivery of cold chain thermolabile medicines.
Astra Logistic Ltd. is a specialized pharma logistics provider for the EU and Central Asia, offering the full range of services, including transportation, consolidation, storage, and customs clearance of pharmaceutical products in the supply chain. Among other company’s activities, Astra Logistic acts as a cargo agent that is engaged in air transportation and has agent agreements with almost all air carriers located at Riga International Airport.
Astra Logistic Ltd. delivers cargos from European pharmaceutical manufacturers with its own transport to the HUB in Riga. The delivery of goods from Riga in the CIS is made by refrigerated trucks and by air.