It is the recent incident flagged by the WHO, of the tragic deaths of many children in an African country, due to the cough syrup, that was manufactured by an Indian company that triggered me to write this piece. Healthcare companies, by their mission, are meant to provide health care to humanity. However, it is the other side of the technology that also poses a challenge whereby some situations like these are created.
On one hand, this is extremely damaging for the community when lives are lost, and also on another hand, this doesn’t create a positive roadmap for the organisation undergoing or facing such situations from business and image, both perspectives. News of this nature has immense potential to damage the business prospects of the companies, in not only their captive markets but also the future opportunities in the untapped markets.
It’s not the first time that any pharma company has come under the radar for exporting faulty medicines, and even well-known brands have faced an uproar at different points in time for various products of theirs, which were harmful in the short-term or long-term for human beings.
Of course, companies need to follow best manufacturing practices that ensure there is no compromise of the product quality, more so when they are dealing with the lives of people. Having said this, many times situations like these get created based on suspicion and not full research-backed data, leading to the image destruction of a corporate. In the well-connected news ecosystem, this spreads too fast, and often people jump to conclusions too early. The question is how do you manage such situations?
Looking at this particular case, neither the local government nor the World Health Organisation, which flagged this company for providing faulty medicines has come out clearly stating the “one-to-one causal relation of death” as per various media reports. While the Indian government and drug regulatory authorities have sprung into action and have taken measures of checking samples etc., at their laboratories to ascertain the truth, they may take some time to get to the bottom of it.
Deaths are always highly significant and usually rare events in any medical treatment process. Also, it is easy to track such events and therefore the corporates can take corrective actions, without any delays. The market information system should be well-designed enough to get timely and instantaneous information back to the manufacturing company in such instances.
Especially, in the case of exports and that too to remote countries that are poor and do not have a great infrastructure to depend upon, there needs to be some channel of communication open between the entire chain from manufacturing to the end-consumer via trade partners, distributors, pharmacists, and doctors.
Immediate alert and highlighting of such instances, back to the manufacturing core can help in taking the right measures including checking the batches, recalling the spurious material if any, replacing them with fresh stock, thereby preventing further tragedies and also compensating the affected families on compassionate human grounds. A proper channel of communication, through the entire chain, can help ensure this.
Prevention is better than cure not only stands true in terms of treating an ailment but also fits in rightly when it comes to image management too. The price of negative press can be much more not only for the corporate profits but also for the end-user, who may not want to use even other products from the same company and suffer on many fronts.
While the role of corporate communications remains at managing image issues, they can certainly work closely with various teams in the manufacturing company and alert them about any potential threats that may exist due to their historical mistakes if any, or from their learnings from the global environment.
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