Community pharmacy associations protest sudden face mask ceiling price reduction
Pharmacy associations are opposing the federal government’s sudden second revision of the retail price for three-ply medical grade face masks from RM2.00 to RM1.50 on short notice without prior consultation with stakeholders.
A joint letter submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) by the Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society (MPS), and the Sabah and Sarawak Pharmaceutical Societies declared that “this treatment is highly unjust to community pharmacists [CPs] who have done their national duty and remained open during this crisis to serve the rakyat.”
At the same time, the Malaysian Community Pharmacy Guild (MCPG) also submitted a letter to the PMO appealing for a reconsideration of the sudden decision and maintain the RM2.00 ceiling price as gazetted on 20 March 2020, warning of negative repercussions to face mask supplies in the market.
Prior to 20 March, many CPs had reported difficulties obtaining face mask stocks as the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has led to overwhelming global demand. Local Malaysian manufacturing output has been insufficient for domestic needs, and CPs seeking alternative suppliers from overseas found masks at cost prices far beyond the original RM0.80 ceiling price set on 27 January 2020 by the Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs (KPDNHEP), on grounds of increased production costs.
“We do believe that the government is fully aware that the masks cannot be obtained at RM0.80 and hence had increased the price to RM2.00,” said the joint statement. “This decision had at least allowed some masks to be imported/manufactured and made available for sale to the rakyat.”
However, just 9 days after the announcement, a second announcement was made reducing the retail ceiling price from RM2.00 to RM1.50. This came after many CPs had paid in full or paid 50% of the deposit for stocks only due to arrive in April 2020.
“The reduction … caught CPs by surprise and leaves them no avenue to clear their existing stocks,” said the joint statement. “Despite the removal of import and sales taxes, in states like Sabah and Sarawak the cost is still high due to transportation charges … many pharmacies in these states are receiving the face masks at the high price of RM1.90.”
In its own letter, the MCPG added that since the 20 March gazette, the unit prices for masks that CPs had been ordering from suppliers ranged from RM1.70 to RM2.00 per piece.
Both letters warned that the short notice would cause new shortages as some CPs would not be able to sell their new stocks, cause a surge in black market sales in areas difficult to enforce such as the internet and word-of-mouth operations.
The joint statement by the MPS and Sabah and Sarawak Pharmaceutical Societies urged the government to either subsidise CPs that would incur losses from the abrupt price drop or to give them a deferment period of 1 month to clear out stocks obtained at higher prices, providing invoices with dates of purchase as evidence if required.
“It is important to point out that most community pharmacies do not intend to make much profit from the sales of face masks and keep it in stock as a public service to those in need,” they said.
They also urged the government to recognize CPs as front liners in the fight against COVID-19, including them in the list of allowed purchasers for locally produced face masks, as well as making available a list of potential local and international suppliers who could supply them at below the RM1.50 retail ceiling price, as many CPs lacked the individual buying power to negotiate lower cost prices.