While food security has been the subject of debate in Malaysia in recent days, medicine security is also a cause for concern.
Pharmacists warn that the weakening of the ringgit, the unstable global economy, and the Russia-Ukraine conflict will naturally push the cost of drugs even higher, raising concerns over the affordability of medicines among the average Malaysian.
Malaysian Pharmacists Society (MPS) president, Amrahi Buang, said that 90 per cent of medicines in the country is imported.
“The situation (the weakening of the ringgit) will definitely increase costs,” said Amrahi.
The ringgit opened at RM4.40 against the US dollar today – the lowest since March 2020.
“Two years ago, I raised the lack of preparedness in the country in dealing with Covid-19. For us, to now go into endemicity, we should learn and be prepared, as well.”
Earlier this year, cough mixtures, paracetamol and lozenges were difficult to come by, as the Omicron variant infected more people. The spike in demand contributed to the price hike of such items.
Amrahi added that the government could cushion the impact of the price hikes by supporting local manufacturers.
“This will ensure that the local manufacturers can produce medicines for the local market, and even for the region. We can collaborate with nations like China, and even Indonesia, or Vietnam. No one country can produce everything … the cake is so big.
“If we can work together in the region. That alone will help control prices.”
He added the government could also negotiate directly with the originator of patented drugs to get sufficient supply for both public and private hospitals.
“Many new drugs are coming up. Even the anti-Covid-19 drug is patented. We can have discussions at the highest level to ensure enough supply and manage costs.
“We have been monitoring the situation and the prices of medicines throughout the pandemic, and we knew that this was going to happen. Look, it even happened to something as basic as paracetamol.
“We now have to be ready, post-pandemic … We must also monitor the Russia-Ukraine war. If the conflict spills over to other nations … We have to be prepared for that, too.
“Some countries stock up on their medicines. Essential medicines must always be available.”
Amrahi said his society applauded the government’s initiative in providing vaccines, adding that Malaysia could go one step further by producing halal vaccines.
“I’m not talking about Covid-19 vaccines, but also other vaccines, like pneumococcal and influenza. There is a market for such products. This is an opportunity for local manufacturers to help the nation revive its economy, post-pandemic.”