Explained: Why COVID-19 has led to a global shortage of condoms

Explained: Why COVID-19 has led to a global shortage of condoms

Latex condoms are arranged on a conveyor system for packaging at Sagami Rubber Industries Co.'s factory in Atsugi, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. (Bloomberg: Kiyoshi Ota)

As the novel coronavirus pandemic has forced several countries to enforce lockdown measures, supply chains of many essential and non-essential products have been severely hampered. Reports have warned of a global shortage of contraceptives, including condoms, as manufacturers have had to close factories and global transport routes have taken a hit.

Why the world is facing a shortage of condoms

As the pandemic has spread across countries, several governments have had to enforce lockdowns, halting many industries and commercial activities.

Curfews in Southeast Asia, where some of the world’s major condom makers are located, are expected to cause a significant disruption in the product’s supply.

On March 27, Reuters reported that Malaysian manufacturer Karex Bhd, which makes one in every five condoms globally, was not able to produce a single condom in its factories for more than a week due to the lockdown.

The report predicted a shortfall of 100 million condoms as Karex, which makes the Durex brand, had been able to work with only 50 per cent of its workforce under special permission from the government.

Further, Bloomberg quoted Karex group chief executive officer Goh Miah Kiat as saying demand is growing at “double digits” as countries impose lockdowns and many people abstain from having children given the uncertain future.

Bloomberg also reported that Thailand-based Thai Nippon Rubber Industry Pcl has had to work at maximum output, 27 per cent more than its annual average, to compensate for the supply shortage caused due to other manufacturers being affected.

The supply of contraceptive drugs is also expected to be affected, as pharmaceutical sector giants India and China have been forced to shut factories.

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China is a leading manufacturer of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (or APIs), a key component in all drugs, including contraceptives. As Chinese manufacturing stalled due to the outbreak, it sparked fears of raw material shortages in India-- one of the world’s largest makers of pharmaceutical products.

Subsequently, on March 3, India’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry curbed the export of 26 essential drugs and drug ingredients, including the hormone progesterone, a critical component required for making several contraceptives.

Additionally, the clampdown on international transport routes, including shipping, is also expected to compound delays.

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