Survey: Malaysia Has Third Cheapest Drug Prices Globally

By CodeBlue | 25 November 2019

Malaysia ranked 48th out of 50 countries on prices of common medicines treating conditions like heart disease, asthma, and high blood pressure.

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KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 25 – Malaysia has among the cheapest prices in the world for some popular and indispensable prescription medicines, almost twice lower than global prices, a new UK-based study found.

Malaysia ranked 48 out of 50 countries surveyed by digital health care provider Medbelle in its 2019 Medicine Price Index, with drug prices even cheaper than in Indonesia and India. The 50th country, Thailand, has the cheapest prices.

The index compares the affordability — or lack thereof — for the same drugs across 50 countries, showing how prices in each nation deviate from the global median.

The prices of originator and generic drugs combined in Malaysia are 90.8 per cent lower than the global median price.

Malaysia’s deviation from the median price of branded drugs was -89.67 per cent, which means that innovative drugs in Malaysia are almost twice as low as the global median price. Generic drugs in Malaysia are 79.04 per cent lower than the global median price.

“The medications chosen for comparison span a variety of common conditions: from heart disease and asthma, to anxiety disorders and erectile dysfunction,” a press release by Medbelle read.

“The average prices of both the brand compound and their generic versions were included in order to have a complete profile of each medication,” it added, saying that the dosage size was also normalised in order to make the price comparable.

Malaysia’s cheapest drug surveyed in comparison to global prices was Zithromax (azithromycin) for bacterial infection, with a deviation of -76.63 per cent from the global median price, or almost 80 per cent lower.

A negative value connotes a lower price than the global median price, whereas a positive value signifies a higher price.

Prices in Malaysia for Ventolin (salbutamol), a medication used to treat asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, are just 5.06 per cent higher than the global median price.

Malaysia’s highest deviation from the global median drug price was recorded for Prozac (fluoxetine), an antidepressant that treats depression, bulimia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, among others, at +174.35 per cent, which means that prices for Prozac in Malaysia are more than twice as high as the global average.

The top five countries with the cheapest drugs were all Asian countries with the exception of Kenya at number two with -93.76 per cent deviation from the global median price for both branded and generic drugs.

Thailand is the nation with the cheapest drugs in the world at -93.93 per cent deviation from the global median price for both branded and generic drugs, followed by Kenya (-93.76 per cent), Malaysia (-90.8 per cent), Indonesia (-90.23 per cent) and India at (-73.82 per cent).

Despite ranking as one of the cheapest countries in the world in terms of total drug prices, certain medications saw Malaysia charging patients higher than its Southeast Asian counterparts, Thailand and Indonesia.

Malaysia ranked at the seventh most expensive country for the price of Lyrica (pregabalin), a drug used to treat epilepsy, fibromyalgia, generalised anxiety disorder, among others, with a deviation from the global median price at +132.49 per cent.

This means the drug is more expensive in Malaysia in comparison to Indonesia (+80.83 per cent), Thailand (+24.04 per cent), and the Philippines (+107.98 per cent), the United Kingdom (+57.96 per cent); but is evidently lower than that of the United States (+1,071.17 per cent).

As for cardiovascular disease and high cholesterol, the drug Lipitor (atorvastatin) is sold in Malaysia with a +115.01 per cent deviation from the global median price, compared to Indonesia (-86.44 per cent), Thailand (-2.15 per cent) and the Philippines (+38.73 per cent). The UK recorded +75.38 per cent, whereas the US recorded +2,175.83 per cent.

As for Lantus (insulin glargine), a drug for Diabetes Type I and II, Malaysia ranked as the 14th most expensive country with a deviation of +27.74 per cent from the global median price, higher than the price of the drug in Indonesia (+22.97 per cent), the Philippines (+17.58 per cent), Thailand (-3.65 per cent), and UK (-28.26 per cent). Again, US recorded the highest at +557.86 per cent.

Zestril (lisinopril), which is used to treat high blood pressure, is 119.44 per cent more expensive in Malaysia than the global median price, but it’s still cheaper than in the Philippines with a +355.05 per cent deviation.

“The results range from a +306.82 per cent deviation in the United States, to -93.93 per cent in Thailand, highlighting a disparity in what patients pay for the same medicine across the world,” said Medbelle.

Overall, the US recorded the highest prices of medication at +306.82 per cent deviation from the global median price for both branded and generic drugs, followed by Germany at +125.64 per cent and the UAE at +122.03 per cent.

“It is our hope that this index can be used to further the discussion around the immense inequality between countries when it comes to the accessibility and cost-effectiveness of healthcare,” said Daniel Kolb, co-founder and managing director at Medbelle, to Aljazeera.

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