THE HEALTH | JULY-AUGUST , 2022
| Cover Story |
When prevention is better than cure
Significant steps must be taken to prevent a recurrence of the current shortage of medicines
BY KHIRTINI K KUMARAN
THE Covid-19 pandemic , the surge in influenza and hand , foot and mouth disease ( HFMD ) cases , dengue fever and the Ukraine war crisis , are severely disrupting the world supply chain , resulting in significant disruptions to everything from food production to electronic items and cars .
This has resulted in shortages of food products and soaring prices of essential items such as chicken , cooking oil and eggs , not to mention labour and other costs . But even more worrying is the shortage of vital medication and drugs .
As a result , consumers resort to hoarding and panic buying , making the shortage even more acute as demand outstrips supply . There are also some patients who insist on getting only certain brands of medicines when there are other equally efficacious brands available in the market available . A good example is paracetamol . While most consumers can make do with cutting down on food consumption , eating out and even defer buying consumer products , getting the proper medication is not an option – it is vital to treat their illness and regain their health . The Health got the views of various stakeholders such as the Pharmaceutical Services Programme ( PSP ) of the Ministry of Health ( MoH ), the Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations ( FOMCA ), the Association of Private Hospitals Malaysia ( APHM ) and the Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society ( MPS ) on the current medicine shortage .
FOMCA President Datuk Dr Marimuthu Nadason did not mince his words when he urged the authorities to buck up and address the shortage of medicine supply fast . He said : “ This should not happen again . The government should come up with corrective and preventive action to address the medicine shortage issue .
“ The government needs a master plan to attract pharmaceutical companies to set up manufacturing facilities in Malaysia . Such a move would be a crucial security measure to prevent a drug shortage crisis should another pandemic outbreak or war .”
Senior Director of MoH ’ s PSP , Norhaliza A Halim , said they had formed a task force to identify a mechanism to overcome the issue holistically and proactively on drug shortage . One measure is to strengthen the local manufacturing capacity for medicines and increase the production of locally sourced raw materials to reduce dependence on imported medicines and raw materials .
President of the MPS Amrahi Buang said pharmacists play a crucial role in monitoring the situation and giving weekly data to the MoH . Pharmacists were also giving alternative medications . He said the seriousness depends on localities , the issue of logistics along the supply chain and unstable supply affecting pharmaceutical services .
Scope and scale of the current medicine shortage
Norhaliza said most of the reported shortages were medication-related to fever , cough and cold and primarily affected private healthcare facilities .
“ However , the disruption of drug supply in Malaysia is still under control . For products under the MoH Central Contract , the current shortages are still manageable with alternative supply through several suppliers .”
As for the situation in private hospitals , APHM President Datuk Dr Kuljit Singh informed : “ The current shortages we see in private hospitals are pretty isolated with certain kinds of medications .
“ While some private hospitals are affected a little more than the others , most are managing quite well .
“ We ’ ve heard one or two hospitals saying there ’ s no supply . The association is trying to assist and talk to the manufacturers .
“ We are looking out for whoever said they do not have medications because they could not get alternatives .”
According to Dr Kuljit , as the public returns to work and social activities increase during the endemic phase , people tend to get a lot of upper respiratory tract infections . “ So most medications for upper respiratory tract infections are in shortage .”