Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, a significant strain has been put on healthcare systems globally. With more hospitals overloaded, and rural communities underserved, the public is relying on the pharmacy network for more than just dispensing medication.
As trusted frontline healthcare providers, pharmacy professionals have been working with other healthcare professionals in providing support for chronic disease management, ensuring medication adherence, offering reassurance and providing evidence-based information to the public.
In Southeast Asia, amid the challenges of patient loyalty and affordable medication, these unsung heroes are one of the most accessible, and convenient options patients have. In certain rural areas, pharmacists are the only healthcare provider that is immediately accessible.
Recently in Malaysia, the livelihood of 3,500 pharmacists was threatened due to the end of government-sponsored pharmacy contracts. The Malaysian government had started employing doctors, pharmacists, and dentists on a contract basis since December 2016. Pharmacists are hired on contract as provisionally registered pharmacists (PRPs) for one year (with a maximum one-year extension) and thereafter, on compulsory service for one more year. This meant that, just months before the pandemic hit, an estimated 3,500 pharmacy contracts could have ended between April and December 2020 – a time when they are most needed.
Some of these pharmacists had been deployed with the Health Ministry, university hospitals and the pharmacy division within the Armed Forces. Their duties include, but are not limited to, the provision of drugs, counseling and review, not only in pharmacies but also in medical and critical care wards. As front liners during the pandemic, the pharmacist’s workload had increased, and shifts were extended to compensate for manpower shortages in other healthcare settings.
Given the unexpected circumstances, the matter was brought to the attention of Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob in a letter from the president of The Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society (MPS) dated March 29, 2020. The letter alerted the Minister that some contracts would end as early as April 16 and urged the Minister to consider the critical role that pharmacists play during the pandemic, their skills and experience, and the support they can lend to hospitals and isolation facilities.
Supporting the letter was a petition signed by more than 6,000 professionals across the pharmacy network calling for government support for the sake of the country’s healthcare needs.
At a press conference in April, the Health Director-General Datuk Dr. Noor Hisham Abdullah reported that the government had sufficient pharmacists suggesting that those whose contracts had ended could still work with the Health Ministry on a volunteer basis.1
However, after the press conference by Dr. Noor Hisham, the health ministry announced that they would extend the contracts by six months given the unexpected circumstances. Health Minister Dr. Adham Baba announced that the contract renewals were for 1,139 pharmacy officers on the UF41 civil service grade, 852 UG41 dental officers, and 79 UD41 medical officers.2
mClinica Pharmacy Solutions applauds this decision as pharmacists play a key role in easing the strain felt by the healthcare system. We are advocates for pharmacy professionals and are aware of the critical role the pharmacy network plays in this pandemic. Pharmacists across Southeast Asia have stepped up, but they too deserve additional support to better equip and educate themselves.
A recent survey conducted on the SwipeRx platform revealed that:
• 3 out of 4 pharmacists demanded more awareness and knowledge on COVID-19
• 1 out of 3 pharmacists require more personal protective equipment (PPE)
• 1 out of 5 pharmacists require further support for proper medicine dispensing techniques to reduce the transmission risk of the virus
• 1 out of 30 pharmacists require vitamins to protect themselves and strengthen their immune system
With a presence across Southeast Asia, mClinica Pharmacy Solutions has also been able to provide effective tracking mechanisms of COVID-19 across the pharmacy network. Not only are we connecting fragmented pharmacies with the healthcare supply chain, our pharmacy mobile app has also been called upon by governments to fill critical gaps and overcome complexities in traditional face-to-face processes. To find out more about SwipeRx visit this page