Global condom shortage looms

Global condom shortage looms

World's largest producer idled for last 10 days by Malaysian lockdown

A worker tests condoms at the Karex condom factory in Pontian, 320 kilometres southeast of Kuala Lumpur. Karex Industries is the world's largest condom maker by volume. (Reuters File Photo)
A worker tests condoms at the Karex condom factory in Pontian, 320 kilometres southeast of Kuala Lumpur. Karex Industries is the world's largest condom maker by volume. (Reuters File Photo)

KUALA LUMPUR: A global shortage of condoms is looming, the world’s biggest producer warns, as a coronavirus lockdown has forced it to shut down production.

Karex Bhd makes one in every five condoms used globally. It has not produced a single condom from its three Malaysian factories in the past 10 days because of the lockdown imposed by the government to halt the spread of the virus.

That’s already a shortfall of 100 million condoms, normally marketed internationally by brands such as Durex, supplied to state healthcare systems such as Britain’s National Health Service or distributed by aid programmes including the UN Population Fund.

“We are going to see a global shortage of condoms everywhere, which is going to be scary,” Karex chief executive Goh Miah Kiat told Reuters this week.

“My concern is that for a lot of humanitarian programmes in Africa, the shortage will not just be two weeks or a month. That shortage can run into months.”

Malaysia is Southeast Asia’s worst affected country, with 2,161 coronavirus infections and 26 deaths. The lockdown is due to remain in place at least until April 14.

The other major condom-producing countries are China, where the virus originated and led to widespread factory shutdowns, and India and Thailand, which are seeing infections spiking only now.

Makers of other critical items such as medical gloves have also faced disruptions in their operations in Malaysia.

Goh said Karex was in the process of appealing to the government for an exemption to operate under specific conditions. Malaysia is allowing some other makers of essential goods to operate with half of their workforce.

“The good thing is that the demand for condoms is still very strong because like it or not, it’s still an essential to have,” Goh said. “Given that at this point in time people are probably not planning to have children. It’s not the time, with so much uncertainty.” 


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