The Story of selling medicine in Malaysia Part 2





We have a choice now. For those who is travelling, perhaps they will choose to buy medicine in ‘blister’ form. But the extra packaging comes with a price. The cost is higher with blister pack and normally blisters pack medicines are sold in smaller quatities, say 30s per box. On the average, it may cost as much as 50cents to package a stripe of 10 tablets. It may of course cost more depending on the packaging materials used and the presentation of the containing  box of course.

They are many advantages of buying medicine in a blister form. The tablets are protected from the elements and may be able to be kept longer. They are easier to carry. They can be counted much more easily in case you have forgotten whether you have taken your usual protion of medication or not.  Certain medicine which cannot be exposed to light must be packed in a blister form ( well, we can argue that they can also be  stored in a darkened glass bottle in loose form).

The bottle form has only one advantage. It is cheaper. But for those who are on long term medication , many still prefer to buy it in bottle form simply because it is cheaper. Many hospitals and clinics still use the bottle option because it is cheaper for the patients. Because of the fast usage, the problem of expiry date becomes not so important, because most medicines are consumed long before the expiry date. Further more, drugs have been stored in bottle form  ever since our great great grandfather’s time, and all these years, bottles have been proven to be effective storage device.

Come October, this choice for patients to opt for blister packs or bottle packs will no longer be made available , as all drugs distributors have been asked by the authority to sell medicines only in blister packs. They are given a time limits to finish selling their bottle packs , but all new drugs coming to the market must be in blister forms. Those important drugs in loose packs will have to be repackaged in Malaysia.

I am not against blister pack. In fact,  I personally prefer  medicine in blister packaging . I am only against taking away the consumers’ power to choose.

What I want to stress here is that ‘choice’ is very important, especially for those on long term medications and those who take 5 to 10 types of medicines for their survival.

As I have mentioned, drug companies are not here for charity. They grab at every opportunity to increase their profits. If they have to foot an extra 50 cents for each strip of medicine, you can be rest assured that they would sell each strip at 2 or 3 dollars more, to increase their profit margin.

A person taking 10 types of medication, which is not uncommon nowadays, especially those with hypertension, diabetes and associated heart and stroke problems. Many of them are taking 10 or more types of medications to maintain their health. Certain medicines, eg diabetic medications, needed to be taken  twice  or three times a day. So at the end of the day, with this compulsory packaging of medicines, the poor old men/ladies would have to foot an extra 30 to 50 bucks or more a months, just to survive.

An analogy is like the tolled road. Yes, using NorthSouth Highway saves time and petrol, and is safer, but there are still people who prefer to use alternative roads, so that they can save on toll charges, which are becoming more and more expensive , since they are being increased every few years. So the key word here is “providing alternatives”. Since people are the master, let the master have the power to choose.

Same for the packaging of medicines. Alternatives must be available for consumers and sick people to choose what they can afford. But , alas, come October , this freedom to choose will no longer be availble, and medicines will be more expensive, adding to the high inflation that the country is facing. It is to be noted that in US,  Singapore and HK, where the living standard is much higher than us, consumers are still given this choice of alternative packagings; they can choose to buy in bottles or strips.

As I see it, the one who benefits would be  the drugs companies, including certain companies that  sell in bulk to the government. Now they may be able to sell drugs at a higher costs and maybe at a higher margin….

 See the earlier article: The story of selling medicine part 1.


15 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. yh
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 13:18:11

    dr hsu

    few key questions.

    who helm the ministry of health?
    who are the main beneficiaries?
    will this not create additional demand for security stickers? and who will benefit most from this additional demand? am i not right this is the sole monopoly of hishamudin and his family?

    when is the last time this GOVT thinks of the suffering rakyat? Can BN answer this question truthfully?


  2. Dr Hsu
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 13:29:09

    Ministry of Health buys medicine through certain suppliers. I would not wat to name names but suffice to say it is not done through open tender, like all government suppliers to other Ministries.

    The Minister is in charge of the Ministry. But being a MCA ministry, UMNO will have great influences..

    I am sure you understand what i say.


  3. yh
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 18:06:31

    dr hsu

    sorry. i stand corrected. the security label is for cigarettes and not for medicine. as for the monoploy on holograms for medicine, someone else wll have to enlighten me on the great beneficiary.


  4. Dr Hsu
    Aug 23, 2008 @ 21:09:59

    yh, I wrote on hologram. It is in the Story of selling medicine in malaysia part 1.. go to the link..



  5. monsterball
    Aug 24, 2008 @ 05:09:11

    In every UMNO ministry….there is bound to give the minister…a chance to make his pile of money…through corruptions.
    That’s the way…UMNO operates and allow their BN do it properly ..without being detected.
    No open tender is the most glaring sign…but they don’t care what smart educated people think…as that also give smart educated people a chance to get rich. Therefore….no open tender is a 50/50 for and against UMNO.
    Yes….it depends which huge Pharmaceutical company can give what to the favour their products. Nothing to be surprised about.
    Since Merdeka time…up to now…heads of Dept with authorities to decide are hands and gloves with the minister..who have the final say.
    So if the government favours a medical product or a formula to put competitors at a disadvantage….even if the competitors have far more superior medical products and are cheaper….no way can that company be successful..unless the company can come out with better ideas….how to bribe them more than another. Ironically.this is a game..the highest offerer wins.
    We are quite fortunate….medical products are all relatively safe…and if will be huge countries detecting them….for recalls of products.
    I think…the biggest money spinner is antibiotics.
    And supply of medical instruments…..machines…scientific instruments …accessories are huge business too.


  6. kennedy121
    Aug 24, 2008 @ 22:32:53

    Can medications still be affected by heat when stored in blister packs? I think pretty much all medicine is sold in blister packs here in the UK, but because we have a nationalised health service ANY medicine costs £7 (about $13) maximum, whether its the strongest cancer/aids drug on the market, or just paracetemol (which you can buy from shops for like 50p ($1 ish).


  7. wazzup
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 10:16:29

    Hope Consumer Association is not keeping quiet on this issue. Thanks Doc for bringing this up.


  8. Peter Yew
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 14:14:21

    Does it means fish oil, multivitamins, calcium tablets will all come in blister packs? Can you imagine the amount of pollution it cause? This sort of decision just add to the negative impression the rakyats have on how BN runs the government. Can’t they leave things as they are?


  9. suchfun
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 15:02:38

    Dear Dr Hsu, Your article worry me,
    I’m going to be 60 soon, all my friends above 60 take many medicine, I’m lucky that at 59, I don’t need any of those old folks medicine. Are there many ppl living in KL and still don’t need any of those medicine by the age of say 65 or 67


  10. Dr Hsu
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 15:48:21

    suchfun, yes, even I myself am worry that medication costs are spiralling.

    You see, even for those generic drugs made locally, the raw materials are all sourced from overseas. Except for US dollars, most curencies, like Canadiain dollars, Euro, Sterlings, yen have all appreciated against the ringgit. Added onto this is the world wide increase in energy costs, transportation costs, and human costs. All these resuts in drug costs increasing at a rate much faster than in the 80s and 90s.

    To alleviate this imported inflation, we have to improve our economy, strengthen the ringgits, and plough money into medical and pharmaceutical research like what Singapore is doing.

    But at the rate our politicians are going, do you think any of them really cares how much is the costs of healing? They are more concerned about enriching themselves.

    Since the seventies, how much has our currency depreciated against Singapore dollars? Why is it so? Do not sell me the standard reply that a low currency can make our export more competitive. Efficiency and high productivity and innovation are what make export more competitive.


  11. suchfun
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 17:05:59

    SG$ or BR$ vs RM,
    1981, SG$ 1 or BR$ 1 = RM1.08, 4th PM started
    2003, SG$ 1 or BR$ 1 = RM2.28, 4th PM ended
    food /clothing /medicine /imported goods, relatively cheaper in Spore?


  12. monsterball
    Aug 26, 2008 @ 18:43:18

    Our ringgit is good to compare with Indonesia…Phillipines…Cambodia and Vietnam.
    Comparing it as like before….with International well developed currency leaders…..forget it.
    Ours is now heading to become banana money.
    So pay your international LC/TR or open account bills fast…or else…every week…it may cost you few % more…until you are actually selling at a loss….even you may have increase your selling prices.


  13. Damocles
    Sep 04, 2008 @ 18:30:37

    “So at the end of the day, with this compulsory packaging of medicines, the poor old men/ladies would have to foot an extra 30 to 50 bucks or more a months, just to survive.”

    I was at a hospital in Kuala Lumpur recently waiting to consult an orthopaedic surgeon when I overheard a few elderly women having a conversation among themselves.
    They were all lamenting about the very high costs of consulting doctors, especially specialists. One of them had appointments with two specialists on that morning; an orthopaedic surgeon AND an ordinary surgeon.
    She also related that she had many other ailments which through the years had eaten away most of her savings.
    She concluded by saying that it was better for her to die rather than to carry on that way.
    I think that many elderly Malaysians are in the same boat as her.
    What is the best solution given the way the BN government has been carrying on with its couldn’t care less attitude?
    I think that euthanasia is a good solution; perhaps the only solution!
    Doc, what’s your view?


  14. Dr Hsu
    Sep 04, 2008 @ 19:12:07

    Damocles, it is true that old people cannot afford the expensive treatment now.

    A caring government has to take care of its citizens health, and that is what i always believe in.

    Malaysia spends about 4% of GDP on health. WHO’s recommnedation is 7%. So we are spending much less than is recommended. And out of this 4 %, a huge amount is wasted in paying the privatised services.

    For example, hospital laundry went up a few times when it was privatised. Formerly the hospitals would decide on how to wash their laundry, but since the service is privatised, the costs has gone up so much. Same as other privatisation.

    Cough mixture used to be bought in gallons pack, but now all comes in prepacked samll bottles, which cost a few times more than before.

    So out of the 4 % spending on health, what is exactly the amount going into actual health care cost, no onw knows.

    SO , in my views, the government, instead of spending on submarines, or sukhoi jets, and other defense weapons, it should spend more on eduication and healthcare.

    ANd we can actually cut down on our operating budget, and even 10% of that would be 15 billions, enough to keep all our old people healthy.

    Operating budget, as i have written in recent posts, went up from 80 billions in 2004 to 152 billion now. an increase of 72 billions. use some of these on healthe, you and I no need to pay anything.

    SO much is wasted.. So much is abused….It is really sad.

    Malaysia can be so rich if everything is spent properly , with accountability and transparency..

    Mou Gan Tai..


  15. A true Malaysian
    Sep 04, 2008 @ 22:18:04

    Dr. Hsu,

    I concur with you. Weak RM does not bring us any good.

    Productivity and innovation are the keys to a fundamentally strong economy.

    Stable currency value is what an economist looking at.


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