The world's largest producer of condoms was forced to shut down production due to a coronavirus lockdown

By Claudia Harmata
April 07, 2020 03:49 PM
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Credit: Azhar Rahim/EPA/Shutterstock

As countries around the world try to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), some have imposed nationwide lockdowns, forcing businesses to shutter their operations until further notice.

Malaysia’s Karex Bhd, the world’s largest producer of condoms, was one of those businesses.

The company, which makes one in every five condoms globally, was forced to shut down production in its three Malaysian factories for over a week after the country’s government ordered a lockdown to try and halt the spread of the virus.

During this time, not a single condom was produced by Karex Bhd, which has resulted in a loss of 100 million condoms that are normally marketed by brands like Durex, The Guardian reported. They are also supplied to state healthcare systems and aid programs, including Britain’s NHS and UN Population Fund.

The company was given permission to continue production on March 27 under a special exemption for “critical” industries. However, it was only allowed to reinstate 50 percent of its workforce.

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“It will take time to jumpstart factories and we will struggle to keep up with demand at half capacity,” Chief Executive Goh Miah Kiat told Reuters.

“We are going to see a global shortage of condoms everywhere, which is going to be scary,” he said. “My concern is that for a lot of humanitarian [programs in Africa], the shortage will not just be two weeks or a month. That shortage can run into months.”

And Karex Bhd isn’t the only producer that has faced a setback due to the pandemic. Many condom factories in China were also forced to shut down or work at reduced capacity.

“The COVID-19 pandemic impacts every single link of the supply chain for sexual and reproductive health products – from the production of critical raw materials, to international shipping and clearing of those products, to delays in regulatory approvals, Chris Purdy CEO of DKT International, a global nonprofit aimed at providing communities with family planning services and HIV/AIDS prevention, tells PEOPLE in a statement.

Purdy warned of shortages in other contraceptives as well, such as oral contraceptive pills, as pharmaceutical manufacturers in India are also experiencing setbacks because of a shortage of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs) from Chinese suppliers.

“Over concerns of supply shortages, the Indian government has now prohibited manufacturers from exporting any products containing progesterone, a critical hormone used in many contraceptives,” he told Health.

Purdy added that these shortages will likely be less of an issue for U.S. and European markets, but that they will feel the effect nonetheless.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.