After vandalism during unrest in South Africa, India-based Cipla reopens Durban manufacturing site

Indian generic drug manufacturer Cipla revealed that one of its plants in South Africa has reopened more than a month after it was vandalized during a period of civil unrest that claimed the lives of more than 300 and caused an estimated $3.3 billion in economic losses. 

The facility is in Durban, in KwaZula-Natal province. It was looted on July 13, with no injuries to its 500-plus employees. Press reports that the plant burned down were inaccurate, the company said.

Cipla said that to mitigate some of the supply disruptions, it leveraged other manufacturing resources in the country and used buffer stock at distribution sites, including for vital drugs such as antiviral HIV treatments.

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The company employed five contractors to expedite clean-up of the plant, said Cipla South Africa CEO Paul Miller, who also praised “the indomitable spirit” of his staff, which allowed for the factory’s quick recovery.

Last month, shortly after the violence erupted in South Africa, Cipla said it had begun to produce Gilead’s remdesivir for the treatment of hospitalized COVID-19 patients. 

Gilead had licensed the production of remdesivir to nine generic manufacturers including seven in India for distribution to 127 low- and middle-income countries. But in April of this year, India banned export of the drug to help the nation deal with its crippling coronavirus surge.   

Cipla also has manufacturing facilities in Johannesburg, South Africa, and Uganda. 

Unrest in South Africa, the country’s worst violence since the end of apartheid in 1994, was triggered by the jailing of former president Jacob Zuma, who ruled from 2009-2018. Facing criminal charges for corruption, Zuma was arrested for contempt of court on July 7. With the country already teetering because of layoffs and economic inequities intensified by the pandemic, riots broke out. 

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More than 90 pharmacies in the KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces were forced to close after looting, leaving only a few rural distributors open for business. Shopping malls, warehouses and factories were also hard hit along with banks, liquor stores, post offices and ATMs.

Vandalism peaked during a span of more than a week in July. The country is back on high alert with the threat of a countrywide shutdown on Monday.