Medicine prices in Malaysia among the highest?

Stephen Ng

Modified 11 Jun 2018, 4:46 pm

LETTER | Since around 2006, my former colleague Dr Zaheer-Ud-Din Babar and I have been on a media campaign to talk about the high medicine prices in Malaysia.

A research paper written by Babar, which was published by World Health Organisation identified Malaysia as one of the countries with among highest prices of medicine.

I was assisting Babar to make his research findings known to more people, but only one or two newspapers at that point were willing to carry the story. The rest seemed to shy away.

The New Straits Times on May 9, 2006 carried the article, "Medicines being sold at exorbitant prices, says survey.” The article has since been taken down.

Among Babar’s conclusions were that prices were found to be generally higher in retail pharmacies and dispensing doctor clinics for both innovator brands and generics.

He also found that off-patent innovator brands were supplied to patients, with no generic equivalents.

The big contrast between the two types of medicines is, of course, the price of many innovator brands being higher compared to cheaper generics.

It is the poor patients who have to pay heftily for their treatment. Even for some common ailments, such as hypertension, asthma, respiratory disorders, there was low affordability, as observed by Babar’s study.

Even for identical products in both private pharmacies and doctors’ clinics, Babar said his study showed there was a huge variation of prices among different sectors and geographical areas.

Then-health minister, Dr Chua Soi Lek ignored the research paper, and the campaign died a natural death after Babar joined Universiti Sains Malaysia.

The ministry’s pharmaceutical services division director Che Mohd Zin Che Awang disputed Babar findings.

"At the moment there is no problem in the price of medicines. We are still cheaper than many of our neighbouring countries."

I am glad that what the BN government failed to do has been done by the new Pakatan Harapan government within one month.

New health minister Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad said that the ministry would make the supply chain of drugs to public healthcare facilities more transparent, and that there would be a move towards more generics.

I sincerely hope that Dzulkefly will be able to make medical treatment affordable to more people.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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