Ensure a level playing field

  • Letters
  • Tuesday, 03 Sep 2019

I REFER to the letter titled “High time to decide on the concession issue” that appeared in The Star on Aug 30 (online at bit.ly/star_drugs) calling on the government to make a timely decision on the “logistics and distribution concession for drugs and medical supplies”.

I felt compelled to write a reply because I am of the opinion that it is inappropriate at this juncture to exert pressure on the government to make a quick decision on this important issue.

The authorities must be given time to look into a monopoly that is now running into its 35th year so they can study the matter from the viewpoint of not only ensuring an efficient distribution system but also the need to develop a vibrant local pharmaceutical industry.

I think we should place enough trust in the authorities to anticipate implications and put in place measures to ensure continuity whatever the outcome of the review.

While I have no argument with the concern that there should be no shortage of drugs in public hospitals, I do take issue with the writer’s defence of the performance of the current concessionaire – and I’m sure many members of staff of public hospitals that bore the brunt of the turbulent years of an inefficient supply system in the early days will agree with me.

It is a little disingenuous to argue that the concessionaire has now achieved 98% of the key performance indicators and therefore the objectives have all been met in the 2000s. Even given that, though, many would argue that with the kind of patronage and protection that has been given for many years, the question to ask is: What took you so long? Why did the concessionaire take so many years to arrive at a good distribution system that should have been there from day one?

Statistics can be deceiving if not given the proper context. The letter stated that 70% of pharmaceutical products are procured by the Health Ministry via the normal open central contract and only 30% handled by the concessionaire. Is this in terms of the number of pharmaceutical products or their value? If it is by value then it comes as no surprise as most of the patented innovator products are costly and a small number of these will quickly make up the 70% in value.

I also find it perplexing and very worrying when we are told that a single entity holding on to 30% of pharmaceutical products in the public sector for 35 long years is not a monopoly but a matter of wrong perception on our part.

Another issue that must be addressed in the interest of the nation is: what are the terms of the agreement that were drawn up by the government with the concessionaire?

Apart from ensuring good distribution, was there a requirement for the concessionaire to develop a strong manufacturing base in the country and help boost the country’s economy by ensuring we become a leading exporter of generics and a force to be reckoned with in the pharmaceutical sector? If there is such an understanding, have there been any achievements on this front?

I believe there is a general feeling that a vibrant and thriving pharmaceutical sector that is competent and on par with world’s best is certainly possible but for this to happen there must be inclusivity and support by the government across the board for all pharmaceutical companies that are prepared to work hard and compete on a level playing field.


Subang Jaya, Selangor

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