KUALA LUMPUR, March 9 — Malaysia should not give “special treatment” to halal medicines, a powerful American pharmaceutical lobbyist group advised United States (US) president Donald Trump.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), a leading trade group in the US, said its 34 member companies are strongly supportive of religious and cultural sensitivities.
But they do not believe that Putrajaya should provide preferential treatment to such products in government procurement, PhRMA said in its submission for the United States Trade Representative’s (USTR) 2020 Special 301 Report, an annual review on US trade policies.
“Furthermore, it is important to ensure that patients, in partnership with their health care providers, are prescribed the appropriate medicine for their conditions,” the Washington power house lobbyist group added.
The USTR is a federal agency responsible for developing and recommending US trade policy to the US president. Its 2020 Special 301 Report aims at identifying trade barriers to US companies and products due to intellectual property laws.
In 2017, under the Barisan Nasional administration, Malaysia’s Ministry of Health (MOH) published a guideline on prescribing and administration of non-halal pharmaceuticals for Muslims. The guidelines are used at all MOH health care facilities, and take into account “realistic and practical aspects in patient treatment”.
Among others, it says that Muslim patients need to be treated with medicines that have no non-halal ingredients, and if there are non-halal ingredients in place, alternative products are recommended.
But if the medicine does have non-halal components, health care providers are advised to explain to Muslim patients that it contains non-halal ingredients, and to get their permission before administering the drugs.
It does, however, mention that medicines should be used during times of emergency to save a patient’s life, even if it has non-halal components in it, and does not require a Muslim patient’s consent prior.
PhRMA, meanwhile, said the industry is aligned with the Malaysian government to improve patient access to medicines, but recommended that Putrajaya eliminate “discriminatory preferences” for locally manufactured pharmaceuticals.
“For example, the government of Malaysia has recently announced that it will grant three-year procurement contracts to companies who move production of imported products to Malaysia (with the potential for a two-year extension if those locally produced products are exported).”
This “preferential treatment” discourages an open and competitive marketplace in Malaysia, PhRMA said.
Malaysia’s National Medicines Policy, which prioritises the medium and long-term goals set by the government for the pharmaceutical sector, endorses price controls, generic drugs substitution, and preferences for generics and local manufacturers by promoting national self-reliance for drugs listed on the National Essential Medicines List.
For several years now, PhRMA has been calling on the Trump administration to address discriminatory market access practices abroad that it said free ride on American innovation and put US jobs and exports at risk, especially in Malaysia.
For the last two years at least, it has recommended that the US president urge action to reverse compulsory licensing in Malaysia, as well as “blacklist” the country for denying “adequate and effective” protection of US intellectual property rights and fair and equitable market access by designating it a “Priority Foreign Country”, the worst trade-related classification for any foreign country.
It has also urged Malaysia to be more transparent about listing drugs on the Malaysian Medicines Formulary, which lists drugs that MOH routinely pays for and provides in its facilities. PhrMA further claimed that Malaysia’s controversial plan to control medicine prices, mooted by the previous Pakatan Harapan government, will not address long-term health care cost challenges.