A health issue that must not remain unresolved

Recent reports have revealed that a small number of companies owned by politicians of the previous administration monopolize the supplies of medicines to government-owned medical facilities. As a result, prices of medicines have shot up making it difficult for hospitals to buy the medicines and make them available free or at subsidized prices to the public.

Despite the expose, the issue remains unresolved. People are not getting the medicines they should or getting less effective but cheaper medicines. I know for a fact that this is the case with Universiti Hospital which manages a couple of chronic medical conditions I suffer from.

I’ve been under UH’s medical care for more than five years but this year my rhinitis/sinusitis condition took a turn for the worse and even after several months of treatment, I wasn’t getting better. Finally I decided to query the medical officers who attend to me and found out that they don’t have the better but more expensive medicines to give the treatment they want to.

I was on Rhinocort and loratadine but the doctors switched to cetirizine and loratadine which was effective treatment but the cetirizine made me drowsy all day though I slept well on it! I couldn’t get up on time and was drowsy right up to 5pm! I would also nod off at the wheels. So, I requested for a change of medicine.

The doctor then recommended Nasonex and Aerius which are expensive medicines but UH didn’t have the supplies. That was when the doctor told me, “These medicines used to be free but not anymore.”

So, they don’t prescribe these medicines to their patients. Sometimes, when they do prescribe, the medicines may be out of stock! I also need omeprazole to manage acid reflux. But, more than once, I was told to come back to collect it because it was out of stock! In the most recent case, I was told to call to check if supplies had arrived and when I did I was told to come very early in the morning to collect because the stock would run out later!

The person at the end of the line told me they only got a stock of 1,000! That’s enough for a hospital serving thousands of patients?! When I went to collect the next day, I was told that I would only be given one month’s supply and to come again for the next month!

So, like me, thousands of Malaysians are walking around coping with their illnesses because good medicines that would restore their health is inaccessible to them.

This is a grievous lapse of service! Health care should be democratised so that the maximum number of people have access to proper medical treatment. Apparently, in the last couple of years, despite a commendable annual economic growth figure of about 5% and a rise in GDP per capita income from US$9,800 last year to US$11,240 this year, government hospitals don’t have money to subsidize medicine for the general public.

Where is all this wealth going when the ordinary person doesn’t benefit from it? I’m a paying patient at UH. And, I’m able to get the better prescriptions from commercial pharmacies. I’m very fortunate to have a pharmacy near my house which sells medicines at reasonable prices because they have a high turnover.

What about those who can’t afford it? The bottom 40% of the population? The Health Ministry can no longer take its time to solve this problem by blaming it on the previous administration or remaining unmoved on the grounds that the government is new and still settling in.

People’s health is at stake. This is an issue that needs to be addressed urgently and swiftly. The ministry needs to assume responsibility and solve this issue immediately. I really hope the Health Minister steps up!

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