KUALA LUMPUR, June 27 – The EU-Asean Business Council has underlined the need to make medicines and health advice more accessible in community pharmacies to alleviate the burden on primary care providers.
The call comes as health care systems worldwide grapple with escalating demands and limited resources as populations age, including in Malaysia.
Speaking at a forum on “Advancing the self-care ecosystem in Malaysia” organised by Reckitt, in partnership with EU-Asean Business Council and Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy last May 16, EU-Asean Business Council executive director Chris Humphrey urged governments to adopt policies that empower individuals to take better care of themselves and seek alternative health care options for minor illnesses.
“Self-care is a huge topic. It’s a huge span from eating right, exercise, and nutrition. But it also means being able to treat yourself without having to go and see a doctor or a general practitioner (GP) or go to the emergency room,” Humphrey said.
“So, having access to over-the-counter (OTC) medicine for minor illnesses – this is where governments can start playing with policy.
“Yes, governments can lean on people, try and get them to exercise more and teach them more about eating more vegetables, less red meat, drink less, and don’t smoke – governments can do all those things.
“But a lot of it, unfortunately, as we get older, it goes in one ear and out the other. We don’t remember the lessons we were taught in school. So, we need to do other things to encourage people to take better care of themselves.
“But most importantly, when we get sick, think twice why we need to go and see the GP, who has got more serious patients, literally, or can I just go to see the pharmacist and get some quick advice and get better medicines related to my problems?” Humphrey said.
Galen chief executive Azrul Mohd Khalib, who moderated the panel discussion, highlighted that a study on promoting self-care in Asean conducted by the EU-Asean Business Council found that the majority of respondents (83 per cent) wanted more medicines for minor ailments to be made available more widely, such as in supermarkets and convenience stores.
The study also found that 86 per cent want governments to do more to incentivise and support people to self-care at home, which could mean better access to some prescription medication.
“That study showed that 83 per cent of respondents in Malaysia said they wanted to have easier access to medicines to treat minor ailments, whether it’s through a pharmacy or through a 7-11 or convenience shop – and we saw similar numbers elsewhere across Southeast Asia,” Humphrey said.
“Why would you make people go through the cost and time of going to a primary health care centre to see a doctor, to get a prescription for medicine, which in some other countries in the world they live in, they would just go to the counter and get advice from the pharmacist?
“The more you can do that, the more relief you’re providing for the primary health care system and you are allowing limited resources – because every government has limited resources on health care, unfortunately – we are targeting people that really do need treatment or people who have real serious problems.
“The rest of us can just look after ourselves [sic] with medicines that we can readily buy. I understand governments will have some concern on how far down this road do we go, where’s the limit. I think you just need to measure and benchmark against other people in the neighbourhood, see what they are doing,” Humphrey added.
“But we do need to reduce the burden on health care systems.”
Norhaliza A. Halim, senior director of pharmaceutical services at the Ministry of Health (MOH), shared her views on the matter, stating: “I think we have the numbers for community pharmacists and GPs as well. However, there is still much room for improvement.”
She pointed out that there are disparities in the services provided by different pharmacies. “In some well-established pharmacies, the pharmacists are well-trained and proactive. As soon as we step in, they approach us and inquire about our needs.
“On the other hand, some pharmacies only offer advice upon request or simply sell products from the shelves without providing additional support,” Norhaliza said.
Norhaliza said that addressing this issue is an ongoing endeavour within Malaysian society, with involvement from organisations such as the Malaysian Pharmacists Society (MPS) and the Malaysian Community Pharmacy Guild (MCPG). “We are actively engaged in educating our pharmacists in the community.”