Health Ministry speeds up permit application process for flu medicine
Published:  Jan 7, 2020 10:29 AM
Updated: 6:32 AM

The Health Ministry (MOH) has sped up the permit application process for private healthcare facilities for the import of Oseltamivir - used to treat influenza infections - to cater to the increase in applications since last month.

Reiterating there was no shortage of the drug, also known as Tamiflu, at the ministry facilities, Health Ministry director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah (above) said there had been no applications for the permit from private facilities from January to November, last year.

Private facilities are required to apply for a permit to import Tamiflu.

“They (private facilities) do not have any issues in obtaining it from a supplier outside Malaysia.

“However, in December 2019, the application has increased. As the usage of antiviral increased, the assigned pharmaceutical company’s stock for Tamiflu is just enough for the usage of government healthcare facilities.

“In order to address the issue, MOH has sped up the process of application, in which now the average of permit approval is less than five days,” Noor Hisham said in a Facebook posting this morning.

Most applicants that had applied for permits before the end of 2019 have since obtained the stock.

As such, he urged those in high-risk groups to seek vaccination. Those at higher risk of infection include children below the age of five, senior citizens above 65, pregnant women and those with underlying medical diseases.

“At the moment, the MOH pharmaceutical service programme has not received any notification from the pharmaceutical company regarding any shortage of antiviral stock.”

Sufficient stock of medicines at public facilities

Noor Hisham’s statement followed a Malaysiakini report yesterday that highlighted the increase in rates of influenza - commonly known as the flu - in Malaysia last year, double compared to 2018 rates.

The report, which highlighted data provided by a private hospital as well as the World Health Organisation (WHO), also reported on the “critical” shortage of Oseltamivir at private hospitals.

The MOH later asserted there was sufficient stock of the medicine to treat flu cases at government hospitals and clinics.

A viral infection, influenza may appear like the common cold but is more severe, affects the respiratory system and could cause death, especially among young children who have immature immune systems.

Vaccination for influenza is not part of the National Immunisation Programme, which covers free vaccination against 12 other diseases. However, the MOH encourages immunisation as additional vaccination.

Although the Malaysian cases are not believed to be related to the mysterious pneumonia cases in Wuhan, China, the ministry is investigating the matter.

Increasing trend

Meanwhile, the ministry’s disease control division said records show an uptrend in influenza cases in the country.

This, it said, was based on sentinel surveillance it conducted on the rate of medical consultation on influenza-like illness (ILI) and ward admissions for severe acute respiratory infection (Sari) from mid-December 2019.

“Data recorded from this activity (survey) is proxy data. As such, it cannot be denied the increase in the trend recorded from this activity... indirectly provides the impression of the real situation out there,” it said in a statement to Malaysiakini today.

Even so, the disease control division added that analysis of the virus detected during the survey did not indicate it had undergone any mutation to the point of transforming into a new form or novel virus.

“This increasing trend involved the existing influenza virus - either Influenza A or B.

“Hence, existing preventive and control measures are still in use to address the situation.”

Such measures include obtaining vaccination offered by private facilities, maintaining a high level of personal hygiene and making a speedy visit to the doctor over worsening flu symptoms including cough, fever and sore throat.

There are four different forms of influenza viruses: A, B, C, and D.

Influenza A can be found in humans, as well as other species, while Influenza B is mainly contracted by humans.

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