By HABHAJAN SINGH / Pic by BLOOMBERG
A pediatric clinic in Sungai Petani has been scrambling around for weeks to maintain the bare minimum of essential medicines on its shelf. The clinic has been running low on cough mixture, sore throat medication, paracetamol and antibiotics since April and the situation is not improving.
“This week, I’m down to one percent for some of my essential medicines. And I’ve run out completely of antibiotics since last week,” Dr Harcharan Singh told The Malaysian Reserve.
The owner of Klinik Pakar Kanak-Kanak Harcharan, who has been in the business for more than two decades, is not the only pediatrician facing shortage of essential medicines.
A pediatric clinic in Ipoh, Perak, has also confirmed running out of stock of medicines like syrup paracetamol and cough syrup.
“My direct suppliers have kept postponing the delivery date. The last time, they talked about end-May. Now, it’s June. I’ve been picking up some of the supplies from the local pharmacies, but they don’t carry too much stock,” said Harcharan.
When posed the question on the shortage, National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA) said parents have stocked up on medicines as a precautionary measure when children began getting Covid-19 vaccine jabs under the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme for Children (PICKids) launched on Feb 13. The programme ends on May 31.
“As a precaution to children getting fever or pain at the injection spot due to the adverse events following immunisation (AEFIs), parents have stocked up on paracetamol syrup,” NPRA director Dr Roshayati Mohamad Sani told The Malaysian Reserve in an email.
She said the department was in the process of getting complete information from medicine suppliers on their latest stock status and their plans to ensure stocks recover to the usual levels.
Dr Harcharan said that the shortage was not limited to medicines parents and patients would stock up for post Covid-19 vaccination management.
“This is not just parents stocking up medicine due to the Covid-19 jabs. How do you then explain the shortage of antibiotics? Antibiotics cannot be sold without prescription,” he said.
A Kuala Lumpur-based clinic operator, who declined to be named, said medicine supply has been tight, but he has been able to get enough supplies as his team has been pushing hard the suppliers.
In March, the Malaysian Pharmacists Society (MPS) president Amrahi Buang confirmed shortages were being reported all over the country, saying that the situation deteriorated following the Chinese New Year and Federal Territories public holidays.
“During that period, we saw lots of people travelling across state borders, and the lack of adherence to standard operating procedure might have contributed to a surge in the number of cases. This resulted in an increase in demand for all medicines related to Covid-19,” he was quoted in The Star.
Last month, Amrahi told The Malaysian Reserve that MPS has taken necessary steps to overcome the problem of supply, noting that 90% of drug supplies were imported from abroad. He said MPS was addressing the matter primarily by giving patients smaller amounts of prescription on long-term medications.
Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah also said the country’s demand for medications has increased by 10 to 15 times since the pre-pandemic period, affecting the level of Covid-19 drug stocks.