KOTA KINABALU: Pharmacies in and around the city are scrambling to restock their supply of vital drugs amid fears that another Covid-19 wave could sweep through the nation.
Covid-19 infections soared in China in November and have continued to increase after Beijing dismantled its zero-Covid policy, stopping, among other things, regular tests on the country’s population.
With the anticipated influx of tourists from China following its lifting of travel restrictions on its citizens, it is feared the number of Covid-19 cases could spike again in Malaysia.
Sabah is among Chinese tourists’ favourite destinations in Malaysia. They made up almost half of visitor arrivals in the state between 2017 and 2019.
“We have enough masks and sanitisers for a whole year in case they become mandatory again,” pharmacist Jordan Kah of Jatson Personal Care Store and Pharmacy told FMT.
“But these are not our concern now. Our main concern over the past six months is the shortage of vital drugs .”
These drugs include paracetamol, cough syrups and flu and asthma medicines, which are commonly used to alleviate Covid-19 symptoms.
Kah said suppliers would normally only fulfil between 30% and 40% of his orders.
“For example,” he said, “our suppliers recently could give us only 10 boxes of paracetamol even though I ordered 100 because they don’t have enough.
“It’s not because we have too many pharmacies. The number has not increased drastically over the years. They just don’t have enough to supply everybody.”
Mohammad Fadzil of LifeCare Pharmacy had a similar experience, saying he had ordered 50 boxes of asthma medicine but received only 12.
“I also had to wait three months for those,” he said, adding that most suppliers would send the drugs to hospitals first.
“It is easier to get these drugs in private hospitals but be prepared to pay more for them. For example, salbutamol is sold for less than RM30 in pharmacies but private hospitals could charge up to RM60 for them.”
Fadzil said paracetamol used to be easily available in local grocery stores. However, he added, these stores did not have much in stock now.
“For now, we can still cope,” he said. “But if there is a spike in Covid-19 cases again, we may have trouble filling orders.”
However, Fadzil said he was sure he had enough masks and sanitisers to last the whole year.
“There are more face mask makers nowadays and they are are easy to obtain,” he said. “Many shops are selling them, not just pharmacies. I’ve even stocked up on self-test kits although not too many because they have shorter shelf lives.”
Sabah Pharmaceutical Society president Hiew Chui Li confirmed a shortage of vital drugs statewide at the moment, citing a shortage in raw materials, logistic issues and factory closures.
She said it was a global problem since China supplied most of the raw materials. “When that country’s borders were closed, the whole world was affected.”
Despite China’s easing of restrictions, Hiew said, some suppliers were reluctant to import the medicines.
“Everything costs more now. On top of that, the new minimum wage rule will also lead to an increase in the prices of medicines across the board soon.”
Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society president Amrahi Buang advised consumers to consider using alternative brands if their preferred brands were unavailable and to refrain from hoarding drugs if they did not need them.
“I also urge the government to monitor the situation closely, particularly since Chinese New Year is soon,” he said. “Logistics problems could be exacerbated by the holidays.”