Medicine Shortage Hits Private Hospitals, Scant Flu And Paediatric Drugs

Private hospitals say life-saving treatments and medicines for critical illnesses are still available for now, including cardiovascular and cancer drugs.

KUALA LUMPUR, June 4 – Private hospitals have sounded the alarm on insufficient medicine supply, particularly flu and children’s medications, as shortages spread across Malaysia’s health care system.

The Association of Private Hospitals Malaysia (APHM) said most private hospitals are currently managing medicine shortages by using generic alternatives to the usual brands that are prescribed.

Some private hospitals have also reported a low supply of paediatric medications due to a surge of demand amid rising infections as schools reopened and daily activities resumed. As such, private hospitals have increased their orders for paediatric drugs.

“Private hospitals would like to reassure that medications for critical diseases and life-saving conditions are available,” APHM president Dr Kuljit Singh said in a statement today.

Dr Kuljit also told CodeBlue that cardiovascular and cancer drugs in private hospitals are currently sufficient and that most other medications are still available compared to flu-related treatments.

“Should the need arise in emergency conditions, private hospitals work very seamlessly between hospitals to assist each other to treat patients with the appropriate medication without any hassle or difficulty,” he added.

According to APHM, private hospitals usually project and prepare their drug stocks based on seasonal trends, such as higher orders during school days to account for possible increases of upper respiratory tract infections.

“Placing orders and storage of medications will be done accordingly without any wastage or over-supplying to the hospital pharmacy as all medications have a shelf life and unsold medication will result in financial loss.”

Dr Kuljit attributed the current shortage of flu medicines in private hospitals to the Covid-19 pandemic and the current hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) outbreaks in the country.

Suppliers, he said, attributed the shortages to the lack of raw materials needed for finished pharmaceutical products, the war in Ukraine, and the recent lockdowns in China. China only lifted last weekend a hardcore two-month lockdown in its largest city, Shanghai, which has the world’s busiest container port.

“But we believe this is very temporary and the situation will get better in a few weeks,” Dr Kuljit said.

“We have stock, but we’re not sure what happens when the stock finishes. Will the suppliers have anything to replenish us?” he told CodeBlue. “Maybe by then, the stocks will be enough as it’s temporary.”

Private general practitioner (GP) clinics have complained about a shortage of medicines like antibiotics and over-the-counter drugs for fever, flu, and cough and cold, including cough and flu syrups for children.

The Malaysian Association of Pharmaceutical Suppliers (MAPS), which represents local pharmaceutical importers, blamed the drug shortages on global supply disruptions of both finished pharmaceutical products and the components required to produce medicines (active pharmaceutical ingredients [APIs], and pharmaceutical intermediates and excipients) – all of which are completely imported by Malaysia. China is the world’s number one supplier of APIs and pharmaceutical intermediates.

These disruptions were triggered by the recent China shutdowns, the Russia-Ukraine war, and prolonged global lockdowns during the past two years of the pandemic that affected global shipping and logistics, combined with surging global demand as countries reopened this year.

Although APHM described the drug shortages as “very temporary”, MAPS believes that the shortages will worsen and spread across all therapeutic areas. Suppliers have also told GPs to prepare for the medicine scarcity to last until September or the end of the year.

The Health Ministry yesterday said no class of medication is completely out of stock yet, due to the availability of generics, adding that it would continue monitoring the situation.

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