KUALA LUMPUR: The sales of paracetamol jumped by 238% in the first quarter of this year compared to the previous year, says Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin.
“There is an exponential increase in demand for fever, flu and cough medicines. For instance, the sales for paracetamol increased by 238% in the first quarter of this year compared to the first quarter of the previous year,” he said during the Minister’s Question Time in the Dewan Rakyat on Tuesday (July 26).
Khairy said that the disruption of supply was due to the total lockdown in China where most of the supply for active ingredients for pharmaceutical products are produced and the Russia-Ukraine war where an ingredient which is added to the active ingredient was produced.
“Other countries such as Australia and Singapore are also facing a shortage of supply,” he said.
“The high demand has led to the shortage of certain medicines although local manufacturers have increased production of those medicines. Apart from that, imports of medicines have also been increased,” Khairy said.
Khairy (BN-Rembau) added that the ministry has also agreed to release its stockpile to the private sector.
To ensure the country’s drug security and self-reliance in times of crisis, local pharmaceutical companies are encouraged to produce their own active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) through public-private partnerships.
Other initiatives taken include the development of the Pharmaceutical Track & Trace System and strengthening the Asean partnership through the Asean Drug Security and Self Reliance Framework which aims to improve the access to medicines.
“A framework is being finetuned to develop strategic cooperation with major API producing countries such as India and China to guarantee the API supply in Malaysia including during a crisis,” he said.
In addition to that, Khairy added that the ministry would also advocate pharmaceutical product patency by strengthening its cooperation with the Intellectual Property Corporation of Malaysia to prevent patent ever-greening.
“This will ensure that there is early access to affordable generic medicines and will protect the rights of the patent holders,” Khairy said.
He was responding to a question by Isnaraissah Munirah Majilis (Warisan-Kota Belud) on the ministry’s plan to create a National Medicines Security Policy and to what extent the measures taken by the ministry to create a buffer stock of medicines in order to control supply instability.
In a related note, Khairy said the ministry was looking into the implementation of price control through the price transparency mechanism.
He said a memorandum was being prepared to be tabled to the Cabinet for approval.
“I want to bring a mechanism where pharmaceutical companies will have to present to the government what the retail prices of medicines are,” he said.
He added without price transparency, “we are at the mercy of big pharma,” as the manufacturing costs of the medicines were not known.
“So we will bring a paper on the mechanism of price transparency of medicines so we can know what the fair and reasonable prices of certain medicines are,” he said.
Khairy, however, said price control would be a last resort as the government does not like interfering in the market.
However, he said this was done with the Covid-19 vaccines as there was a need for them.
He was responding to a supplementary question by Datuk Seri Mohd Salim Sharif on why drugs for certain illnesses such as cancer were priced exorbitantly with their cost running in the thousands.