Ministry tracks thousands of online ads for illicit medicines

Deputy Health Minister Lee Boon Chye says people who shop online for health products should equip themselves with enough knowledge to ensure their safety.

PETALING JAYA: The health ministry has sought to assure the public that it is diligent in monitoring the online sale of medicines and health supplements, saying it has issued thousands of notices to e-commerce platforms to demand the removal of links advertising illegal pharmaceutical products.

Since 2016, nearly 6,000 such notices have been sent out, but most of them, numbering 4,579, were issued last year, according to a statement from the ministry’s pharmaceutical services division.

The owners of the platforms were given two weeks to comply with the demand and most of them did, the statement said.

The advertised products contravened the Medicine (Advertisement & Sales) Act, the Sale of Drugs Act and the Poisons Act, it added.

A social activist recently urged the government to act against online stores selling drugs that may contain hazardous substances.

Azrul Mohd Khalib, who heads the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy, said many vendors were bypassing safety checks by offering their products on Lazada, Mudah.my, Shoppe and other online platforms.

The ministry’s statement also referred to websites that are not normally identified as e-commerce platforms. It said monitoring was done last year on 8,738 URLs and these included popular social media platforms and personal blogs.

It said it contacted the providers of Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and other social media platforms to ask them to remove advertisements offering medical products that violate Malaysian law.

“As for other web pages and blogs,” it added, “complaints were forwarded to the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission” and it was asked to block the domains.

Deputy Health Minister Lee Boon Chye said people who shop online for health products should equip themselves with enough knowledge to ensure their safety.

“Some medicines are adulterated with banned substances or poisons,” he told FMT.

He said consumers could search the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency’s website to find out if the drugs they were buying were registered with the agency.

However, he warned buyers against being taken in by vendors selling fake health products that may match items on the agency’s registry, saying they should look for meditag holograms to check for originality.

He said a cyber unit of the pharmacy department was continuously monitoring online sales to check for unregistered drugs.

“We are also working with international agencies in regard to online sales,” he added.