Condom shortage looming after coronavirus blockade closes world's top producer

KUALA LUMPUR: A global condom shortage is looming, the world's largest producer said, after a blockade forced it to shut down production.

Karex Bhd of Malaysia manufactures one in five condoms worldwide. It has not produced a single one of its three Malaysian factories in the past 10 days due to a government-imposed blockade to stop the spread of the virus.

That is already a shortfall of 100 million condoms, normally marketed internationally by brands like Durex, supplied to state health systems like Britain's NHS, or distributed by aid programs like the United Nations 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 many humanitarian programs in Africa, the shortage will not be just two weeks or a month. That shortage can last for months.

Malaysia is the most affected country in Southeast Asia, with 2,161 coronavirus infections and 26 deaths. The blockade will remain in force until at least April 14.

The other main condom-producing countries are China, where the coronavirus originated and caused the widespread closure of factories, and India and Thailand, which are seeing infections increasing only now.

Manufacturers of other critical items like medical gloves have also had problems at 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 approving other producers of essential goods to operate with half of its workforce.

The good news is that the demand for condoms is still very strong whether we like it or not, having it is still essential, Goh said. Since people are probably not planning to have children right now. This is not the time, with so much uncertainty.