The short supply of medicines especially at certain pharmacies and private health facilities is not due to panic buying by the public, says Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin.
Instead, he said this was due to the high demand for certain medications following the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 earlier and the rising cases of hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) now.
Kira-kira 11,000 klinik swasta dan farmasi komuniti berisiko menutup operasi perniagaan sekiranya masalah kekurangan bekalan ubat-ubatan asas sejak awal tahun ini yang semakin meruncing terus berlarutan tanpa ada penyelesaian. Kekurangan bekalan seperti paracetamol, batuk dan selesema sehingga 30 peratus merencatkan operasi dan sehingga kini tidak nampak perkara itu diambil peduli walaupun pengendali klinik swasta dan farmasi komuniti telah menyuarakannya.
Health minister Khairy Jamaluddin has admitted that there are shortages in several over-the-counter medications after discussions with pharmaceutical associations early this month.
Khairy said the discussions revealed a detailed list of medicines with shortages, shared by the Malaysian Organisation of Pharmaceutical Industries (MOPI), the Pharmaceutical Association of Malaysia (PhAMA) and the Malaysian Association of Pharmaceutical Suppliers (MAPS).
“These are mostly over-the-counter medications such as antibiotics, paediatric medications and cough syrups,” he said at a press conference, adding that medications for food poisoning, fever and common flu were also in low supply.
Khairy noted that the pharmaceutical associations said these shortages were mainly due to supply chain disruptions which had caused delays in shipment.
He said the low supply of paracetamol and Vitamin C was mainly due to shortages in raw materials, disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the increase in demand following the recent Omicron wave.
“As a result, the public ended up buying more than they needed,” he said.
He said the ministry’s pharmaceutical services division had been instructed to look into alternative medicines in view of these shortages prolonging.
Last week, the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) said the “unprecedented” demand for common medications had caught pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors off guard. It advised the public against panic buying.
On June 3, the health ministry said there was no shortage of pharmaceutical products as there were alternative medicines and brands in the market which offered the same results.
It said manufacturers had also increased their production capacity to meet the increased demand.
Meanwhile, in conjunction with World Food Safety Day today, Khairy urged all home-based food business owners to apply and get listed on the health ministry’s website.
“This way we can ensure that these businesses are adhering to our food safety protocols,” he said.
He stressed that the application was voluntary and that the ministry did not want to stand in the way of small and micro businesses.
Private hospitals also face medication shortage, resort to alternatives
Private hospitals are also facing a medication shortage predicament similar to public hospitals and private clinics said the Association of Private Hospitals Malaysia (APHM).
APHM president Datuk Dr Kuljit Singh said the shortages, however, are not across all medications and there are sufficient stocks for life-saving conditions.
He adds the Covid-19 pandemic and the recent Hand Foot Mouth Disease have caused a little shortage of medications for flu and cough and possibly fever.
“Most private hospitals have resorted to alternatives like generics to the usual brands that are prescribed, hence the current shortages are manageable,” he said in a statement.
He adds private hospitals also have systems in place that can calculate the usual demand for medications during different months of the year and with the possibility of an increase in upper respiratory tract infection at certain times of the year, for example during school days.
Dr Kuljit said placing orders and storage of medications will be done accordingly with no wastage or over-supplying to the hospital pharmacy as all medications have shelf life and unsold medication will result in financial loss.
“Some private hospitals have recently noticed a low supply of paediatric medications which may be because of higher numbers of pediatric patients as schools and social interactions are allowed, hence resulting in higher communicable diseases. In view of the sudden demand for pediatric medication, private hospitals have increased their orders from the resources,” he said.
The reasoning given by suppliers ranges from lack of raw material, war in Ukraine and recent lock downs in China, he said.
“But we believe this is very temporary and the situation will get better in a few weeks,” Dr Kuljit said.
Private hospitals he said would like to re-ensure that medications for critical diseases and life-saving conditions are available.
He adds should the need arise in emergency conditions, private hospitals work seamlessly between hospitals to assist each other to treat patients with the medication with no hassle or difficulty.