Acute shortage of medicines ailing pharmacies

PETALING JAYA: Pharmacies nationwide, including those in Sabah and Sarawak, continue to face an acute shortage of non-prescription drugs such as paracetamol, cough syrup, antibiotics and medication for food poisoning and allergies, said Malaysian Pharmacists Society president Amrahi Buang.

While Amrahi could not put a value on the amount of medication that was in shortage or the loss in revenue to pharmacies, he said: “Stocks are very unstable. Pharmacies may have some drugs this week, but not next week. This is very worrisome as it is a nationwide problem.

“We met Health Ministry officials recently and they confirmed that over-the-counter drugs were the main ones in short supply. In fact, 90% to 95% of products in pharmacies are non-prescription items, and the low supply is contributing to a serious loss of revenue.

“This is a bad situation as we need to serve the communities we are in,” he said.

Last Friday, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said the ministry would release its federal medical stockpile to private hospitals and clinics to address the shortage, after a meeting with stakeholders the day before.

“The shortage of cough, flu and fever drugs and medication for children persists at health facilities. Pharmaniaga Bhd manages the stockpile, and I have instructed the medicines be released,” Khairy said.

Meanwhile, Deputy Health Minister Datuk Dr Noor Azmi Ghazali announced yesterday the shortage of medicines is expected to be resolved within two weeks.

He also said the Covid-19 restrictions imposed in the country and the Ukraine war were possible reasons for the shortage.

However, no mention was made on how the ministry planned to overcome it.

Amrahi said while the release of the stockpile may ease the shortage faced by private clinics and hospitals, pharmacies have not gained from the move.

He added that the public could seek advice from pharmacists and get recommendations on alternative medicines or generic ones if what they want is unavailable.

“Prescribing generic drugs and medicines is allowed under the National Medicines Policy. All medical products registered under the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency are of high quality, safe and effective. Unregistered medications are not allowed to be sold in the country,” he added.

Amrahi advised consumers to purchase medicines based only on their needs so that available stocks can be shared with others who also need them.

Last Wednesday, Malaysian Medical Association president Dr Koh Kar Chai said global Covid-19 restrictions had affected the supply chain and increased demand for medicines, which caused the current shortage.

“During the pandemic, demand for such medicaments was at an all-time low, leading to the expiry of medicines that were in storage. Manufacturers had to scale down their production. With the sudden increase in demand, manufacturers had to resume or scale up production to cope.

“This can’t happen overnight as there are immense logistical and resource issues to deal with. Coupled with all these is the raw material shortage to produce the medicines.”

Koh said the decreased supply of medicine was not only happening in Malaysia but was a global problem, according to various reports.

“The supply chain disruption is a logistical nightmare for suppliers as well as purchasers as one can never know when a (certain type of) medicine may suddenly become unavailable in the market.

“Doctors have been using alternatives to the medicines they regularly use. These are viable choices for treatment but (that option) imposes stress on the doctor, who has to continually source for alternative medical supplies.”

Pharmacies are facing a shortage of over-the-counter drugs such as paracetamol, cough syrup, antibiotics and medication for food poisoning and allergies.

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