After nearly two weeks out of production, Japanese-led Saraya Manufacturing Uganda Limited has resumed production of the Alsoft V brand of hand sanitizers.
On March 18, 2020, Saraya ran out of stock of a key ingredient used in the manufacture of sanitizers leading to scarcity of the product on the market.
“It’s true that there was no production because we didn’t have allantoin. We could have easily produced the product but we didn’t want to take advantage of the COVID-19 outbreak to cheat clients,” Fortunate Collins, the general manager of Saraya, told The Observer.
Fortunate said the ingredient finally arrived on Friday last week and production started yet again on Monday, March 30. Since allantoin had also run out, he said the company was forced to expensively airlift the ingredient, among other items, to meet the increasing demand for hand sanitizers.
Ordinarily, it takes a maximum of four days to airlift ingredients and a minimum of two months via sea from the manufacturer to Uganda. Under the current flight restrictions in various countries to contain the COVID-19 virus, it takes more than two weeks.
“We are responding by doing things faster. Our prices have not changed regardless of the increased cost on production,” Fortunate said.
The retail price of the one litre bottle of Alsoft V hand sanitizer costs Shs 25,700, five litres Shs 113,400, and 20 litres at Shs 386,700. Fortunate said that there could be some increments on the price in the market but they are not supposed to be minor.
“Our job is to recommend a price...However, distributors/retailers might be having additional costs incurred but still, it should not be anything that you see in the market of a one litre bottle going for Shs 200,000, Shs 150,000, and Shs 180,000,” he said.
A week ago, prices of hand sanitizers tripled in pharmacies and supermarkets. In his March 24 address, President Museveni urged people to use water and soap if sanitizers were expensive for them to afford.
“There are people who are crooks and over hiking the prices of sanitizers. I want to tell you that you don’t need the sanitizers. The soap is enough to kill the virus if you wash properly your palm, between the fingers and you give it time,”
Museveni said. “These crooks should not hold you hostage. If they overprice, you leave them and use ordinary soap. I think the cruder the soap, the better.”
According to Fortunate, it is unfair for pharmacies and middlemen to start profiteering from the COVID-19 outbreak due to the increased demand for sanitizers.
“It is immoral for pharmacies to hike the price because the time is now to serve the public when it needs us most with affordable costs. I would imagine that the huge demand alone is sufficient to guarantee good business for anyone having the product because the turnover rate is much higher,” he added.
The increase in demand also saw some illegal companies manufacturing sanitizers. On March 26, Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) confiscated sanitizers manufactured by UKI Hand Sanitizer for illegal use of its Quality (Q) mark.
According to the UNBS website, only two companies are certified to produce instant hand sanitizers countrywide. These are; Saraya and Geno-HITECH Uganda Limited. Carbide Company Limited and Collard Group Limited are also previously listed as manufacturers of sanitizers but their licenses expired on September 27, 2019 and January 29, 2020 respectively.
Saraya supplies hand sanitizers to DRC, Kenya, South Sudan and Uganda. As of March 30, Saraya had a backlog of 500,000 litres with Uganda having at least the highest orders at 80 per cent and closely followed by Kenya. Fortunate said priority is to first supply Uganda then deals with other countries at their convenience.
“Our production capacity is between 7,000 to 10,000 litres per day but the market is demanding for more than 400,000 litres per day. We are far behind the required production quantities but we are working to cover that gap,” Fortunate said adding that they hope to close on the backlog within the within two weeks “now that the major ingredients are available”.
At the factory in Kakira, Fortunate said staff, now increased from nine to 24 in March, are working from 7 am to past midnight in order to clear the backlog and meet the demand as opposed to the daily routine of 9 am to 5 pm.
Saraya is also challenged with packaging material as plastic companies are not able to meet the demand.
“Right now, we must be producing at least 150,000 litres per day. If these litres are to be packaged in one-litre bottles, this translates into 150,000 plastic bottles which the supplier is not ready to give us. If you’re to pack them in other quantities, you need at least 50,000 bottles per day. Today, the Ugandan supplier can at most send in between 3,000 to 3500 bottles per day and we can’t blame them,” Fortunate said.
When the factory was out of production, they stocked some bottles but can only take them for the next two weeks. For now, the factory cannot engage another supplier.
“If you are to bring in a new person, you need a mould that manufactures the plastic bottles. Under normal circumstances, you need at least two months to come up with it because it can only be got in India, China or Japan that are currently under total lockdown,” he said.
SANITIZERS VS WASHING HANDS
As the demand for hand sanitizers soars, the public is also still torn between the using sanitizers over ordinary soap and water. Bernadette Basuta, an epidemiologist at the ministry of Health, encouraged people to embrace handwashing in the fight against COVID-19.
Basuta said water and soap still reign in quickly picking dirt off one’s hands. As a matter of fact, she explained that a sanitizer is advised for its convenience but primarily, one is supposed to wash hands with water and soap. For instance, if someone has been digging, a sanitizer is not as effective as if you first washed hands and then apply a sanitizer.
“Sanitizers should be something that you use when there’s no availability of water and soap because the sinks are not very close and you have to move to find them,” Basuta said.
She added: “When you repeatedly use sanitizers – and it’s the only way you clean your hands from morning to evening – debris keeps depositing on your hands. With time, if you are not washing your hands with water and soap to clear the dirt, even the efficacy of the sanitizer reduces.”
She insisted that much as one uses a sanitizer, there must be intervals when you wash hands with water and soap. According to Basuta, some sanitizers comprise glycerin which keeps fingers smooth and not dry out. With time, one can easily feel the glycerin is deposited on the skin, and the fingers are not fresh.
“Water and soap are still readily available. So, buy a detergent of your convenience or ordinary blue bar of soap and keep cutting a small piece for your hand washing,” she said.
She urged people working in offices to not only wash hands but also disinfect their computers, keyboards, and desks among others to reduce their chances of exposure to the virus.
When asked if increased usage of soap and water will not lock out Saraya hand sanitizers, Fortunate had this to say.
“I would think a sanitizer is much more effective because it is designed for that purpose unlike soap which is more less multipurpose. Saraya also manufactures anti-bacterial soap on the market and those who know it are buying. Due to the extra demand for the hand sanitizers, we decided to reduce our soap production.”