With outbreaks, supply of meds for flu, HFMD critically low in Malaysia

·3-min read
Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, July 8 — The current shortage of medicine at pharmacies in the country, especially for over-the-counter (OTC) medicine, has worsened in recent weeks partly due to the latest spike in not only Covid-19 infections but also outbreaks in influenza and hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD).

Citing several pharmacists and private clinics around the country, The Star reported that many OTC medicine such as paracetamol, cough syrups and lozenges for sore throat have been in low supply since last month.

With children’s cough syrup and Panadol Syrup for kids also out of stock, The Star reported that some parents have resorted to dissolve paracetamol tablets for their sick children.

"The supply of Panadol Extend was also cut off for a while and we only just received stocks last week," an unnamed pharmacist told the daily, adding that the supply of all types of Panadol was so low that stocks would normally run out in just two days.

Another unnamed doctor also told the newspaper that the shortage of medicine could lead to a health crisis.

"Most pharmacies and clinics are out of stock on medications such as Clarinase for flu and blocked nose, and Betadine for sore throat.

"We also recently received a memo from our supplier saying that flu jabs will only be available in 2024,” the anonymous doctor was quoted saying.

Federation of Private Medical Practitioners Associations Malaysia president Dr Steven Chow told The Star that the supply of common medicine is getting worse and unlikely to be resolved soon.

According to Dr Chow, many clinics are now short of basic cough and cold syrups due to the series of outbreaks like HFMD, influenza and surges in Covid-19 cases.

"This includes multiple prescription medications such as antibiotics, prednisolone, antivirals, OTC medications for fever, flu, cough and cold, and paediatric medicines like syrups — they are currently out of stock in general practitioner clinics.

"In the meantime, if we are faced with an unexpected disease outbreak, it will trigger a crisis,” he was quoted saying, adding that mouth ulcer sprays are also running short due to the current surge of HFMD cases.

Malaysian Pharmacists Society president Amrahi Buang said medicine in the country has been in short supply since the Covid-19 pandemic began two years ago.

He added that the war between Ukraine and Russia have also affected shipment of medicine to Malaysia.

"The fluctuation of Covid-19 cases will affect medicine supply because it involves global trade.

"Even if we want to manufacture our own medicine, we still have to import the ingredients or packing materials, so no one can solve this — we need to accept [that there is a shortage of medicine].

"All this is happening — we have food security and now we have medicine security issue.

"But it is something that everyone is aware of and the Health Ministry is taking action because we anticipated this two years ago,” Amrahi was quoted saying.

He also advised the public to refrain from hoarding common drugs, which could worsen the shortage further.

"Avoid hoarding medicine and make use of alternative treatments such as honey and lemon (for sore throat).

"For me, it is best if we improve our health literacy and at the same time take care of our health — go for preventive care,” he was quoted saying.

On June 21, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said the current medicine shortage mostly involves medication for common illnesses like cough, cold and fever and antibiotics for children.

However, he expects the situation to stabilise this month.