PETALING JAYA: The shortage of medicines in the country is temporary and will be resolved in the following weeks, says the Pharma-ceutical Association of Malaysia (PhAMA).
Its executive director Chan Li Jin said there are many factors behind the shortage, including supply chain issues and a surge in demand.
She added that the shortage, however, is confined to pockets of therapeutic areas such as medicines for infectious diseases as well as coughs and colds.
“Life-saving drugs remain in ample supply,” she said.
Chan said at the start of the year, Phama members – comprising multinational corporations – had anticipated a spike in demand in tandem with the country’s socioeconomic recovery, and also foresaw supply chain constraints in China due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“As such, plans were put in place to avoid the risk of drug shortages,” she said.
She also said movement control orders over the past two years had reduced demand for antibiotics and painkillers, and the management of Covid-19 had delayed surgical procedures and treatment of non-communicable diseases such as heart disease and hypertension.
All this led to reduced drug orders, she said.
“Following the reopening of borders and lifting of movement controls, hospital and clinic visits have surged, causing a temporary shortage.
“This has caused a domino effect, where one product shortage results in increased demand for alternative products, leading to an unmet surge in supply,” she explained.
Chan said the Russia-Ukraine war also created logistical disruptions.
Other factors, she added, include a shortage of raw materials that caused a chain reaction across the entire supply network.
“As the population returns to pre-Covid-19 routines, the demand for medicines will stabilise and supply will be restored, some earlier than others,” she said, adding that Phama is working with the Health Ministry to monitor the issue and provide support.
Malaysian Pharmacists Society (MPS) president Amrahi Buang confirmed shortages were being reported in the private healthcare sector.
He said the issue is not new and the government should take the necessary steps to address the problem of unstable supply chains.
“This is all situational, and at the peak of the pandemic, people were panicking and hoarded medicines.”
He said the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic (though the majority of patients show mild symptoms) and more cases of hand, food and mouth disease have increased the demand for drugs.
“Some of the medicines are also imported from places where there is disruption due to border controls and, currently, the Russia-Ukraine war. For our own preparedness, we must have a stockpile and identify the essential medicines, especially among the community,” he said.
Amrahi suggested community pharmacists offer professional online or telepharmacist services, among which is to provide home delivery of drugs to patients.
“This kind of service can help consumers deal with the current situation and prevent them from hoarding medicines,” he said.
A paediatric doctor at a private hospital in Damansara here who requested anonymity said paediatric medicines such as some antibiotics, antihistamines and bronchodilators, and rectal diazepam for treatment of fits are low in stock.
“So now we have to use other medications available judiciously, for example, buccal [inside the cheek] midazolam for acute treatment of fits,” he said.
Currently, patient care has not been affected as the hospital is using generic alternatives to counter the shortage of medications, he added.
Caring Pharmacy, however, said it is not experiencing a shortage of flu, fever or cough medicines.
The retail chain’s head of procurement, health, beauty and own brands category Foo Fung Jiun said many Malaysians might have stocked up on these medicines in February and March when there was a surge in Covid-19 cases after Chinese New Year.
On Friday, the Health Ministry’s senior director of pharmaceutical services Norhaliza A. Halim said there has not been a significant disruption to the supply of medicine with the active ingredient of paracetamol for fever and mild pain, vitamin C, and cough and cold medicines in the market because most of the products have alternatives.
She added that manufacturers had increased their production capacity to meet the high demand.