COMMENT | In promoting their Kad Peduli Sihat, Pakatan Harapan is trying to mislead when they claim that the federal government's budget for medicine supply has been cut from RM1.59 billion in 2016 to RM 1.292 billion in 2017 and to RM 1.227 billion in 2018 - or a 20 percent cut in three years.
While the 20 percent reduction is correct, Harapan did not tell you the reason for this reduction. Before I explain, it is important to note that the overall budget for the Ministry of Health (MOH) has been steadily increasing.
For 2018, healthcare was given a budget of RM26.58 billion which is a 9.5 percent or 1.7 billion increase compared to what it received in the 2017 budget. Much of these increases was to build more clinics, hospitals and to purchase medical equipment – all this rather than being wasted due to inefficient drug supply.
In comparison, the last year when Dr Mahathir Mohamad was PM in 2003, the healthcare budget was just RM7.6 billion.
The MOH has come out on record even in early 2015 that they planned to move to generic drugs in order to cut down on cost.
Generic drugs are copies of brand-name drugs that have exactly the same dosage, intended use, effects, side effects, route of administration, risks, safety and strength of the original drug. There is no difference.
Generic drugs usage worldwide has surged in recent years. The biggest catalyst for growth is an increasingly global pharmaceutical spending trend towards generics.
Continuously increasing healthcare expenditures have pushed governments to seek ways to control their healthcare expenditures. This is catalysing an increasing demand for generics versus their branded counterparts.
In fact, moving to generic drugs also gives an opportunity for local manufacturers to grow their business instead of Malaysia having to import all our medicines.
Currently, 30 percent of generic drugs are sourced from local manufacturers whereas almost all branded medicines are produced overseas.
Another major driver for this growth is that the patent periods for proprietary drugs have been considerably shortened - meaning that generic drugs can now be introduced much earlier after the original drugs were introduced.
On top of replacing more expensive branded drugs with identical generic drugs, MOH also wanted to reduce the previous practice of dispensing too much medicine to patients which ended up getting thrown away as the patients simply cannot use up all the medicines given. Therefore, more reasonable and accurate dosages were given instead.
Since money has now been saved from inefficient drug supplies, the government can now invest in better equipment and build more clinics and hospitals to serve the people which also provides places for our medical graduates to perform their housemanship.
Unlike private clinics which Harapan wants to promote with their Kad Peduli Sihat, the federal government also has to take into account the need to provide places for our medical graduates as well as free healthcare for Malaysians - which is why the focus is on government-owned clinics and hospitals rather than the private for-profit clinics that Harapan favours.
For years, the opposition claimed that government departments needed to increase efficiency and cut wastage in their spending.
However, when our MOH did exactly that, rather than receiving praise, it was spinned by the opposition to incite instead.
This is just like how Harapan misled the rakyat in that budgets for public universities have been cut even though this had always been a deliberate and stated plan in the Higher Education Blueprint 2015-2025.
This was to force the public universities to be more efficient and to collaborate much closer with the private sector to ensure their research will be in practical and commercially viable areas and to ensure the relevant courses they offer are in areas where their graduates can easily find work with the private sector they collaborate with.
This deliberate move has begun to show results. Our public universities have been rocketing up the rankings of all the world universities in recent years - unlike in the past under Mahathir where they kept dropping year after year.
ERIC SEE-TO is deputy director, BN strategic communications department.
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