Medicine supplies on life support

Running low: Clinic assistant Noor Basirah arranging medicine for flu and cough at a clinic in Kota Damansara. — FAIHAN GHANI/The Star

PETALING JAYA: A spike in the number of cases for Covid-19 and influenza, as well as hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) outbreaks, has exacerbated the problem of medicine shortage in the country.

Checks by The Star at pharmacies around the Klang Valley found that over-the-counter (OTC) medicine such as paracetamol, cough syrup and lozenges for sore throat are running low in supply. Some clinics are also running low.

An industry player is concerned that the shortage could lead to a health crisis.

“Most pharmacies and clinics are out of stock on medications such as Clarinase for flu and blocked nose, and Betadine for sore throat.

“We also recently received a memo from our supplier saying that flu jabs will only be available in 2024,” a doctor who wished to remain anonymous told The Star.

Children’s cough syrup and Panadol Syrup for kids are also out of stock, causing some parents to dissolve paracetamol tablets and giving them to their children, a pharmacist added.

Other pharmacists said the supply of Panadol Soluble and Prospan cough syrup had been cut off since last year.

“The supply of Panadol Extend was also cut off for a while and we only just received stocks last week,” a pharmacist said.

He added that the supply of all types of Panadol was so low that stocks would normally run out in just two days.

Federation of Private Medical Practitioners Associations Malaysia president Dr Steven Chow said the situation is getting even worse and it is unlikely that it would be resolved soon.

“Many clinics are now short of basic cough and cold syrups due to many outbreaks, like HFMD, influenza and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

“This includes multiple prescription medications such as antibiotics, prednisolone, antivirals, OTC medications for fever, flu, cough and cold, and paediatric medicines like syrups – they are currently out of stock in general practitioner clinics.“In the meantime, if we are faced with an unexpected disease outbreak, it will trigger a crisis,” he added.

All mouth ulcer sprays are also running short due to the current surge of HFMD cases, he said.

Malaysian Pharmacists Society president Amrahi Buang said the situation has not changed much since the Covid-19 pandemic began.

Besides the number of cases, there are other factors such as the war between Ukraine and Russia that have affected the medicine supply.

“The fluctuation of Covid-19 cases will affect medicine supply because it involves global trade.

“Even if we want to manufacture our own medicine, we still have to import the ingredients or packing materials, so no one can solve this – we need to accept (that there is a shortage of medicine).

“All this is happening – we have food security and now we have medicine security (issues).

“But it is something that everyone is aware of and the Health Ministry is taking action because we anticipated this two years ago,” he added.

Stressing that the issue is a global problem, Amrahi said the public should play their role too in minimising the impact of medication shortage.

“I can’t predict what will happen in the future, but I don’t think that it will settle by the end of this year, and that is why the public needs to be mindful in their usage, avoid wastage and make sure they take medicine according to the prescribed dose.

“Avoid hoarding medicine and make use of alternative treatments such as honey and lemon (for sore throat).

“For me, it is best if we improve our health literacy and at the same time take care of our health – go for preventive care,” he said.

In GEORGE TOWN, a check showed that certain medications including Panadol Optizorb, Coflix Lozenges and cough syrups for children in most of the city’s pharmacies were sold out, with no sign of new stocks arriving soon.

Malaysian Pharmaceutical Association Penang chairman Gina Koay said the situation could only improve next year as the recent surge in Covid-19 cases was not expected, and it was compounded by the shortage of raw materials and logistics issues due to the war in Ukraine.

“Big pharmaceutical companies such as those in Europe usually will have a set amount – for example, RM100mil worth of cartons of a particular brand of medicine – for Malaysia but they did not anticipate a surge in Covid-19 cases,” she said.

Penang Medical Practitioners Society president Datuk KK Tan said 60% of its 700 members were in the same predicament, adding that the shortage was “very real”.

“I would not say it is acute, as private clinics have been told to propose alternative brands to patients and educate them on their efficacy compared with the ones they asked for.

“The rise in other diseases such as HFMD and supply chain issues during this period have also contributed to the shortage of certain medicines and we hope the situation will improve by October,” he added.

Association of Private Hospitals Malaysia president Datuk Dr Kuljit Singh said despite the shortages, there are a lot of alternatives that can be used.

“The medication shortage is temporary and for flu medication, there are a lot of alternatives.

“If we are particular to a specific brand then it may be a challenge. However, for chronic and critical diseases, we do not see any shortage.

“We were given an assurance that by the end of the year, the supply will stabilise – unless we get into any other issue with the pandemic,” he said.

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Covid-19 , influenza , HFMD , medicine shortage ,


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