KUALA LUMPUR, July 6 – Groups representing private hospitals and pharmaceutical multinational companies (MNCs) have jointly come up with several short-term and long-term measures to resolve medicine shortages in Malaysia.
The Association of Private Hospitals Malaysia (APHM) and the Pharmaceutical Association of Malaysia (PhAMA) held a meeting in Kuala Lumpur last Friday – attended by the CEOs of 17 private hospitals and seven pharmaceutical MNCs – to discuss issues related to medicine supplies and pricing, as well as to better understand the current problem of drug supplies running critically low.
Both associations acknowledged that Malaysia’s current medicine shortage was unusually bad this time, due to global pharmaceutical supply chain disruptions triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic over the past two years, including a hard two-month lockdown in Shanghai, China, earlier this year and Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.
Notably, APHM and PhAMA also hinted at possible medicine price increases due to the jump in the cost of pharmaceutical production, including logistics, crucial ingredients in pharmaceutical products, and labour.
“Sporadic medicine shortages are not a new occurrence in the health care ecosystem; however both APHM and PhAMA acknowledge that the volatile conditions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and conflict in certain parts of the world have been disruptive to business operations and logistics in unprecedented ways,” APHM president Dr Kuljit Singh and PhAMA president Chin Keat Chyuan said in a joint statement today.
“Despite also being affected by global issues of logistic bottlenecks and labour shortage, PhAMA and APHM members agree that there should be no compromise on patient safety and treatment outcomes.
“This is where all parties involved need to stay committed to co-create short and long-term solutions that will enhance the health care landscape and add value to care delivery.”
APHM and PhAMA committed to six measures to resolve drug shortages:
- Early notification to health care providers on the possibility of a shortage in a certain product, so that measures can be put in place for alternatives. The notification mechanism will include other stakeholders such as the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA), the Ministry of Health (MOH), and the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA), a doctors’ group, among others, for effective communications.
- Products that face the possibility of discontinuation should be made known to health care providers way in advance so that contingency plans can be put in place.
- Improved coordination and solidarity between all parties to ease borrowing of medicines in times of critical shortages.
- Both APHM and PhAMA will work together in engaging with MOH’s Pharmacy Services Programme (PSP) and NPRA to improve access to medicines to patients.
- Embrace digitisation of health care to speed up manual processes, such as implementing electronic labelling of paper inserts to resolve issues of labour shortage and dashboard/app for medicine stocks monitoring.
- Continuous engagement on medicine pricing and health financing in view of the significant increases in the cost of logistics, active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), labour and others.
CodeBlue previously reported on the medicine shortage problem in Malaysia at length, with scarcities being reported by private clinics and procurement pharmacists at private hospitals since May – much earlier than conventional shortages that typically occur towards the end of the year.
The shortages reported recently extend to several antibiotics; over-the-counter medicines for fever, flu, and cough and cold; children’s syrups, including critical asthma medications; and even seizure and central nervous system-related medication for mental or brain conditions like epilepsy, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and Parkinson’s disease.
The Malaysian Association of Pharmaceutical Suppliers (MAPS), which represents local pharmaceutical importers, noted that Malaysia is particularly vulnerable to global supply chain disruptions because Malaysia is a net importer of pharmaceuticals. Malaysia imports finished pharmaceutical products, as well as APIs and pharmaceutical intermediates that are needed for the local manufacture of drugs.
Following the reports, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin issued a statement saying that MOH has opened its medicine stocks to private health care facilities that are facing drug shortages, with a mechanism for private clinics or hospitals to make requests to borrow medicine supplies from MOH facilities.
CodeBlue reported that medicine shortages affect health facilities disproportionately; private clinics and hospitals are more vulnerable to supply shocks due to their leaner inventory compared to MOH facilities. Both MOH and university hospitals also ration prescriptions to deal with drug shortages.