KUALA LUMPUR, June 23 — National Cancer Society Malaysia (NCSM) director Dr Murallitharan Munisamy said the ongoing drug shortage was affecting cancer treatment in the country, urging the government to be proactive and consider manufacturing critical medicines locally.

He said medicines for cancer treatment were among those affected in the country’s drug shortage, but suggested that the low availability was artificial and not due to an actual lack of supply.

According to a report on The Malaysian Insight, Dr Murallitharan indicated that ringgit’s declining value has made it more expensive for suppliers to import medicines.

“Pharmaceutical companies would have tendered to the government at a certain price but because the tendered price and the price now may be different due to the fluctuation of ringgit to US dollar. So, some companies could be at a loss here.

“Hence, pharmaceutical companies will resort to reasons like no stock, cannot bring in drugs and others, but actually they are waiting for the fluctuation to resolve,” he was quoted as saying.

The doctor said that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has also affected global trade and logistics, which has yet to fully recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Malaysia also needed to be more responsive to the matter as lockdowns in China and India that were major producers of medicines and active ingredients meant the problem was likely to persist, he added.

“We know that hospitals are taking a hit, in terms of money being dispensed. So, when there is a budget cut, it will always hit the non-communicable diseases such as cancer because cancer treatment is expensive,” he added.

However, Dr Murallitharan argued that cutting funds were a short-sighted and fleeting solution to a persisting problem, and said the Health Ministry should pursue the local production of medicines as a more permanent fix.

Malaysia should have already learned the importance of self sufficiency from the Covid-19 pandemic when the world “held us hostage for Covid-19 vaccines”, he added.

“The biggest buyer of drugs is the MoH. If our country can produce its own medicines, then we can save a lot and don’t have to rely on others,” he said.

For the more immediate term, he suggested that the ministry consider a policy for recycling medicines that were returned but not expired.

There have been cases where families brought back boxes of drugs of cancer patients who did not survive, but these had to go to waste as there was no policy to return them back into the supply system, he explained.

“A lot of medicines go to waste because there is no policy on reusing them or educating patients to return unused medicines,” he added.