Khairy Confirms Low Drug Supplies In Private Facilities, Plans For Prolonged Shortage

MOH is seeking alternative pharmaceutical products or sources, besides exploring potential new markets for import and increasing capacity for local production.

SEPANG, June 7 – Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin today confirmed shortages of some common medicines for flu, cough, and fever across several private clinics and pharmacies, though he claimed that the situation nationwide remains under control.

Khairy said medicine supply at public clinics and hospitals is also sufficient, with MOH keeping watch of its central contracts to ensure that its pharmaceutical stock levels are enough.

A stakeholder engagement session between MOH and local pharmaceutical associations on June 2 found several medicines to be in short supply – particularly, flu and cough syrups, medication for food poisoning or diarrhoea, and a few types of antibiotics, said Khairy.

The associations engaged include the Malaysian Association of Pharmaceutical Suppliers (MAPS) that represents local pharmaceutical importers, the Malaysian Organisation of Pharmaceutical Industries (MOPI) that represents local pharmaceutical manufacturers, and the Pharmaceutical Association of Malaysia (PhAMA) that represents multinational drug makers.

“What we did is we asked the pharmaceutical industry on the kind of supply disruptions they are facing,” Khairy told reporters after officiating the World Food Safety Day 2022 celebration here today.

“PhAMA, in their response to us, said as of now, there are no shortages based on the list that was shared. However, there are a few shortages for other medications based on supply disruptions at manufacturing plants and logistics distribution.

“MOPI told us there was a shortage in products such as paracetamol, some vitamins especially vitamin C, and medication for flu and cough.

“The shortage is due to low supply of raw materials, disruptions from Covid, and increased demand due to Omicron where many people bought more (medicine) than they required, and supply chain delays for materials, including for packaging materials.

“MAPS reported some shortages – and this was highlighted by general practitioners (GPs) and community pharmacies – and they said the shortages involve regular OTC medicines like paediatric medicine such as cough and flu syrups, as well as antibiotics due to supply chain issues.”

Khairy has instructed MOH’s pharmaceutical services division to review the pharmaceutical industry’s feedback and seek alternative products or sources that the country can explore to address the supply shortages.

“In the medium to long term period, I’ve asked the [MOH] secretary-general to look at supply disruptions, and consider what our strategies will be if the situation prolongs – either by finding new markets, including countries that we may not have explored previously, or by working closely with the local pharmaceutical industry to help them develop their own supply chain so that we will not be affected by future disruptions.

“This takes into account the many raw materials that we import, not just finished products, because these medicines need raw materials,” Khairy said.

While Malaysia has always had minor medicine shortages in the public health care system towards the end of the year, such as cancer drugs, the drug shortage currently affecting clinics, pharmacies, and hospitals in the private sector started much earlier, with complaints from last month, and is expected to worsen even before the conventional year-end low stock supplies. 

Local pharmaceutical suppliers attribute Malaysia’s current medicine shortages to the recent China lockdowns, particularly the two-month shutdown in the commercial hub of Shanghai, and the Russia-Ukraine war that exacerbated global supply and logistical challenges triggered by prolonged global lockdowns during the pandemic. 

MAPS noted that Malaysia is particularly vulnerable to global supply disruptions because Malaysia’s entire supply of finished pharmaceutical products is either directly imported or indirectly imported for local manufacture via the import of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) – the active component of a drug – as well as other components like pharmaceutical intermediates and excipients.

MAPS projects Malaysia’s medicine shortage to worsen and spread across all therapeutic segments. Suppliers told private medical practitioners to expect shortages of raw materials for medications to continue until September or until the end of the year.

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