Control astronomical prices of medicines now
Expenditure on medicines comprise a large share of total health expenditure. The Ministry of Health (MOH) expenditure on medicines has been steadily increasing from RM1.61 billion in 2010; to RM1.76 billion in 2011; RM1.98 billion in 2012 and RM2.2 billion in 2013. This was an increase of 36.5% in the span of 3 years.
Medicines expenditure will only increase in the future with an ageing population, the shift to chronic diseases, new patented medicines at monopoly prices, and the increased demand for health care.
Ensuring universal access to medicines and meeting the health needs of the population will be a major challenge.
The Consumer Association of Penang calls for the urgent implementation of price control on pharmaceutical drugs. As stated by the Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainuddin in a local daily, “Malaysians have been paying excessive prices for pharmaceutical drugs due to an absence of government control.”
CAP has been calling for pharmaceutical drugs price control for years but it has fallen on deaf ears. Pharmaceutical drugs are an essential item and health is a basic need. Escalating drug prices put a tremendous strain on the financial resources of the Government and the public. It is about time pharmaceutical drug price control is implemented.
CAP views with apprehension the Ministry’s strategy to tackle the fallout created by over-prescription, rather than the underlying cause, by calling on the public to return unused or expired medications at selected government medical centres and hospitals. The rationale for the move initiated last year is to protect the environment against indiscriminate disposal of expired medications, and save government cost from the reuse of unopened, good condition medications.
A survey conducted by Consumers Association of Penang on oral contraceptive pills showed that they were easily and freely available at pharmacies. These drugs are controlled by the Poisons Act 1952, which requires the seller to record their sales in a register called Poisons Book kept by the pharmacy. The easy availability of these drugs over the counter without the registration of the buyer's details makes a mockery of the Poisons Act. The law is openly flouted by pharmacies in Penang and a grocery shop in Kulim, Kedah. An earlier survey also found such pills being sold in the Chow Kit area in KL and in grocery shops in other rural areas.