Tuan Haji Amrahi Buang is a pharmacist by profession, but at his heart, he is an advocate. As the newly re-elected President of the Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society (MPS), Tuan Haji wants to shape public health in Malaysia through policy-making, awareness raising, and campaigning.
One of the causes that Tuan Haji champions is the issue of dispensing separation (DS). For those unfamiliar with Malaysia’s healthcare system, all three levels of their public institutions have dispensing separation, but private institutions only have DS for secondary and tertiary levels. The only sector that has no dispensing separation is the private primary care involving general medical practitioners and community pharmacists.
To address the issue of dispensing separation, Tuan Haji encouraged community pharmacists to participate in the health campaign “Kenali Ubat Anda” or “Know Your Medicines” organized by the Ministry of Health, which was a relatively provocative call to action: The healthcare system in Malaysia has been largely doctor-driven, but Tuan Haji wants more collaboration from community pharmacists, since they are also front-line providers to the community.
According to Tuan Haji, doctors and pharmacists in the private primary care setting, need to remember that they share a common goal. “Our main priority here is the safety of the patients, so we should work together for their benefit,” he says of his simple line of reasoning. He suggested that they should get together and agree to dispensing separation at the primary levels of private institutions by 2020.
For this to happen, the ecosystem to support dispensing separation must be in place first. The issue of medicines pricing is crucial and need to be addressed by the new government after the Malaysian 14th General Elections held on 9th May 2018.
Photo: Tuan Haji Amrahi Buang at the MPS MOU signing with Taylor’s University on March 2017. credit: mps.org.my
“Since there is no pricing control of medication at the primary levels of private institutions, it’s the public that suffers,” says Tuan Haji, adding that it also forces many of them to go hospital and clinic shopping, which is a huge pain point in the current healthcare system.
Central to Tuan Haji’s combating of dispensing separation is that he wants the public to have a better image of pharmacists. So, when another financial issue – this time pertaining to pharmaceutical trade practice – came up, Tuan Haji also stepped in to address the issue.
Unethical pharmaceutical trade practice involves pharmacists and doctors trading in an open market, resulting in some pharmacies and private clinics offering higher discounts or even clearance sales. “To the public, this makes it seem as though doctors and pharmacists are only out to make money and leads to the perception issue for the latter all over again,” says Tuan Haji.
Tuan Haji considers poor pharmaceutical trade practices both unfair and unethical: Unfair because it can kill the businesses of pharmacies who are unable to discount as steeply as their competitors, and unethical because all medicines should be the same price when it reaches the consumers.
The problem is that most Malaysians view a pharmacist as someone at the back of the pharmacy, relaxing behind a prescription counter. This is not good enough. Pharmacists need to be at the forefront of healthcare in a very literal sense: They should be placed at the front and play an active role in introducing themselves and their staff to the public
In his capacity as President of the Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society, Tuan Haji advocates for full compliance to Good Pharmaceutical Trade Practice (GPTP) guidelines provided by the Ministry of Health and collaborates with the appropriate government agencies to ensure this happens.
Tuan Haji will be the first to admit that he cannot change the public image of pharmacists in Malaysia all on his own. He calls on all pharmacists in the country to take an active part in becoming more engaged pharmacists.
“The problem is that most Malaysians view a pharmacist as someone at the back of the pharmacy, relaxing behind a prescription counter. This is not good enough. Pharmacists need to be at the forefront of healthcare in a very literal sense: They should be placed at the front and play an active role in introducing themselves and their staff to the public,” he says.
Tuan Haji believes that the simple action of standing at the front of the pharmacy and conversing with patrons can make a big difference in how they are ultimately perceived.
“This is the image we are trying to cultivate of pharmacists: They are active members of the community. They educate the public, participate in community activities, and work hard to gain the public’s trust as a partner in their healthcare,” he concludes.