Pharmacists can be a pillar in fighting Covid-19

The Covid-19 outbreak in Malaysia has seen essential items like face masks and hand sanitisers being wiped off the shelves in recent days.

As supplies run low, unscrupulous quarters have pushed the prices ridiculously high, forcing consumers to spend more to protect themselves.

Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society president Amrahi Buang and honorary secretary Harpreet Kaur, in condemning the overcharging for face masks, agreed that pharmacists can play a vital role in educating the masses about Covid-19.

Here are their views about the virus.

What are the challenges pharmacists in Malaysia face with the Covid-19 outbreak?

There are several new challenges. For community pharmacists, it’s a matter of supply of essentials like face masks, hand sanitisers and thermometers and also medications that are required daily.

We hope supply is not disrupted as pharmacists are telling patients not to over-stock, but pharmacists themselves must be assured they will get their regular supply.

Also, pharmacists face consumers directly. They are not in a position to know whether the consumers are having Covid-19 infection, especially those who are asymptomatic. They must protect themselves and their staff, and treat everyone as a Covid-19 carrier.

Facial masks are not easily available and have been overly priced. Hand santisers are being snapped up. Some have lambasted pharmacists or pharmacies for overcharging.

MPS does not condone overcharging. However, we have called for a review of the ceiling price as the cost price for these items is now higher than the approved selling price.

It would have been easier to control the price from the factories and set a margin above that. Right now, supplies seem to be from many sources which take a margin from there.

MPS has also suggested that the government take full control of the manufacturers, distributors, suppliers and even retailers to ensure a win-win situation for all. Community pharmacists should be used as a channel to distribute the face masks.

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How can community pharmacies assist the government in curbing the outbreak?

Community pharmacists can educate the public about the Covid-19 infection, social distancing, proper use of face masks, hand washing techniques, proper use of hand sanitisers and responding to symptoms of fever, cough and sneezing.

Upon screening, pharmacists must refer patients to the dedicated facilities for Covid-19 testing. They can also educate consumers about online shopping to prevent panic buying of supplies.

It would be a good move to get community pharmacists involved in testing for Covid-19 as they are the most accessible health care providers in the community. But they must be trained adequately.

Is the Malaysian government truly ready to battle Covid-19?

So far, the government has done well but as the cases increase and a shortage of hospital beds ensues, this may not be the case anymore.

The cluster of the tabligh case in Seri Petaling is very worrying but the government has the capacity to handle it since the country has enough experience handling the Japanese Encephalitis, Nipah Virus and H1N1 outbreaks.

There are about 1,400 ICU beds nationwide and the government will involve the private hospitals, if the need arises.

It must also be noted that following the spike of cases worldwide, obtaining stock for items like ventilators and UVT (universal viral transport) systems will now take months.

We are also worried about the production of medicines worldwide because of raw materials shortage for both active pharmaceutical ingredients and non-active pharmaceutical ingredients like glycerine, stearates and additives.

The shortage of product stocks is pushing prices up and causing delays in transportation. How are pharmacies in Malaysia coping?

Nothing much can be done as pharmacists are at the mercy of the supply chain.

However, we urge all suppliers to maintain their deliveries as many now depend on this for their health, and possibly their lives.

What is your advice to the average Malaysian?

Be a responsible citizen. Practise social distancing by staying at home as much as possible and keep your hands clean. At the same time, do not overstock with panic buying.

Take care of yourself, family and neighbourhood. Provide physical, emotional and social support.