The hurricane season of 2017 has been one for the record books, and it’s only half over. Harvey and Irma both made landfall in the U.S. as Category 4 hurricanes—the first time this has occurred in the Atlantic since 1851. Both were then followed by Jose, yet another Category 4. Soon after, Maria, a Category 5 and the tenth largest Atlantic storm in history, devastated Puerto Rico’s people, buildings, resources, industries and economy.
This level of damage cripples communities. It will take months to restore electrical power, food and safe drinking water to the entire population, and it will probably take years to rebuild entire neighborhoods. What’s often forgotten is that it may take more time than is viable for medications to reach those whose lives depend on them—both on the island and elsewhere.
Puerto Rico provides life-saving medications not only to its own people but to patients and providers all over the world. The island’s burgeoning pharmaceutical industry was overwhelmed by massive power outages, threatening the safety and viability of its products. It’s story is an extreme—but instructive—lesson about the importance of remote and continuous monitoring of medications.
Post-Maria Puerto Rico: An Unresolved Crisis
It’s been more than a month since Maria first devastated Puerto Rico with winds exceeding 150 mph, and still the country is paralyzed by a humanitarian crisis. Federal officials and major drug makers have been scrambling to prevent national shortages of critical drugs for treating cancer, diabetes and heart disease. These medications are manufactured at 80 plants, all of which have been cut off from power supplies.
Pharmaceutical companies are still confronting a range of obstacles on the island, such as locating enough diesel fuel for generators to run their factories, and helping nearly 100,000 employees get to work from areas where roads are blocked, electricity is down and phones are disabled.Scott Gottlieb, the commissioner of the FDA, described the main issue: the instability of the electric supply, not the damage to the factories. Drug companies depend on consistent refrigeration to avoid shortages, leaving most manufacturers to wonder how the broken power grid would affect their supplies.
Maria’s Effect on the Pharmaceutical Industry
The drug industry is the foundation of Puerto Rico’s export economy—a business nearing $15 billion a year, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. As a global hub of pharmaceutical manufacturing, the island’s factories produce 13 of the world’s top-selling brand-name drugs. These products, which include H.I.V. medications and injectable drugs, are sole-source. Made by only one company, the extreme halt in production and availability is set to have serious impact on patients all over the world.
Gottlieb told a congressional panel, “A loss of access could have significant public health consequences,” and not just for the citizens of Puerto Rico. The providers and patients who depend on the pharmaceutical companies to produce the medications they need to prevent illness, improve quality of life and postpone death have all been dealt a scary hand in Maria’s wake.
Prioritize Remote Monitoring and IoT
Hurricane Maria is an urgent reminder of how costly natural disasters can be for companies that rely on power to keep their products and revenues protected. It’s essential for pharmaceutical companies to install a remote, continuous temperature monitoring system that can store readings and power outage data to a cloud that can be accessed online wherever power is available, or when it’s restored.
In a previous post, we discussed a similar situation for our clients in Florida after Hurricane Irma. By continually tracking temperatures in their coolers and freezers, we were able to identify which stores had the highest risk of unsafe storage conditions and which could continue providing patients with safe, effective products.
With this additional information, our customers were able to decide which stock to dispose of on a cooler-by-cooler basis rather than a store-by-store basis, mitigating the financial fallout of the hurricane by reducing product loss. Most importantly, the data gathered by our system enabled our clients not only to save money, but also to continue saving lives.
These recent natural disasters shed light on the power of IoT in emergency situations. Puerto Rico and the pharmaceutical industry have taken a large hit following Hurricane Maria. By implementing remote monitoring systems, we have the ability to provide better insight into the impact and severity of disasters the future may bring.
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