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Current and Future Prospects of Pharmacy Retail Operations in Malaysia

06-Jul-2020   Mr Amrahi Buang, Designation: President, Malaysia Pharmaceutical Society (MPS)   Author: Nishtha Noonwal

In an interview with Mr Amrahi Buang, President of Malaysia Pharmaceutical Society (MPS), we attempt to find out the growth and challenges in the market and how MPS has managed the further development of pharmacy practice and pharmaceutical education to foster intra-professional relationship among community pharmacists and others.

Q: What role does MPS play in Pharmacy Retail Market in Malaysia for Pharmacies and Pharmacists?

MPS being a non-governmental, non-profitable and a non-political organization advocates three major roles that include shifting preferences among Malaysians to take advantage of Community Pharmacists as medicine experts, provision of quality, safe and efficacious medicines including assurance of Medicine safety (side effects, possible interactions) as guardians of medicines and competent Health Care Professionals. The Society largely aims in providing professional services rather than focussing on prices. MPS with their major objective of creating awareness also initiated some activities like World Pharmacists Day celebrations in order to inculcate further knowledge among Malaysians. We see the 5 facets of practice from the point of view of customers such as Glorified Storekeepers (Everything to be at the pharmacy), Discount stores, Health and wellness, Professional Services and all of the above. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, we have done a lot for the pharmacies. We supplied free masks to all the community pharmacies even though some of them were not even our members. MPS have larger focus towards changing a community pharmacy into a health hub, providing care such as Promotive Care, Preventive Care, Curative Care, Rehabilitative care and Palliative Care.

Q: We estimated the number of retail outlets in overall Pharmacy Retail market in Malaysia to be around 2,600 for the year 2019. Please let me know if the figure seem correct to you?

Total Number of Pharmacies was around 2,600 for Year 2019. CAGR of 7%-11% in terms of revenue for the period 2013-2019 and 9%-11% for the period 2020-2025 is a good indicator; however some percentage drop in month on month growth would be there due to the impact of COVID-19 in 2020.

Q: We have estimated that the proportionate share in the total number of pharmacists stores basis Organized and Unorganized retail drug stores to be around 60% and 40% respectively in Malaysia. Does this number look correct?

The above numbers look more or less correct as our own data shows that in 2019, 1,400 pharmacies have between 1-5 premises or more premises wherein majority of pharmacies are standalone and outside of hospitals.

Q:How has the demand for generic OTCs and Prescribed Medicine changed during the Corona Period? What major factors can be attributed to the growth in demand for Generics in Malaysia? 

Generic sales have increased during the Corona period as consumers had lower choices since some pharmacies were out of stock due to logistics which further resulted in substitution of products to generics. Some factors such as increased awareness of generics among pharmacists and the recognition that generics in the country need to adhere to similar standards and must be bioequivalent, resulted in higher demand for such products. Cost factor on the other hand, was also considered to be an important factor, as Generics had a significantly lower price. For instance, a mental health drug with original price of around RM250 has its generic version available for around RM30, i.e.hence economic cost-saving.

Q: What are the Challenges and Pain Points in the Industry that has affected the Retail Pharmacy Market in Malaysia?  

Lack of a National Health Insurance Scheme and a dichotomous healthcare system for both public and private sector creates an unstable and untenable situation in the country. We do not have the separation of dispensing in the private primary care setting and Prescription rights among General Practitioners and Pharmacists like other countries. Changes in the pharmacy law has been debated and discussed over the past 3 decades,although yet to be passed in the parliament. These outdated and archaic laws hamper competitiveness in the pharmacy sector and the ability for pharmacists to respond to consumer demand.

In terms of market competition, higher competitiveness and rise of pharmacy chains with aggressive discounts resulted in failures and closure of independent standalone community pharmacies. Pricing of medications and price difference between professions and pharmacies has led to a price war and thus eroded the sustainability of community pharmacies in the country. On the other hand, Illegal sales of medicines on e-commerce platforms by non-pharmacists have caused confusion among the users in the market. Digital health platforms caused a challenge to independent pharmacies as it has increased the reach of chain pharmacies that are spending huge amount on their new technologies, platforms and services.

Q: How have consumers adapted to the online deliveries of pharmaceutical products during the lockdown period? What is the contribution share of online sales of pharmacy companies in overall retail sales market?

Malaysia has their own Poisons act in the country wherein Pharmacists can prescribe Group C items for online delivery. People in the country are slowly adapting to the digital services and Home Deliveries. All medications must be dispensed at a licensed premise. E-Pharmacy and E-prescription with a digital signature was there in the country and was accepted even before COVID-19 but are still considered to be in the pipeline in the country due to lack of application of internet based technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) in the country. The pandemic situation has accelerated the acceptance of such platforms in the country wherein Pharmacies being a part of essential categories have arranged their services to reach out to consumers during the Movement Control Order (MCO) period.

Q: Please share your viewpoints on the industry future growth and what trends and aspects you see would emerge by 2025 in Malaysia Pharmacy Retail Market.

Future of Retail Pharmacy Industry in Malaysia will be marked by changes in consumer behavior and their acceptance towards e-commerce and digital health in the country. This will result in the digitization of pharmacy services in Malaysia like other countries. Telemedicine and E-pharmacy services will continue to grow as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic as people have shifted their preferences to online consultations during this period. On the other hand, Homecare and Aged Care facilities in the country will continue to grow wherein community pharmacies will get the opportunity to play their role in the provision of pharmacy services to such facilities. Personalized medicine such as compounding will gain more momentum as consumers are demanding more personalized treatments. Pharmacy players in the country will specialize either in the provision of professional services or aggressive deep discounting process. Further consolidation of the fragmented community pharmacies is expected wherein chains will be growing bigger and independent pharmacies on the other hand, would indulge in co-operative or alliances.

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