Important Advice to Stay Prepared During the Monsoon Season

WORDS LIM EN NI

LIM EN NI
Chief Pharmacist
Alpro Pharmacy

The Malaysian Meteorological Department (MetMalaysia) recently announced that Malaysia will experience continuous heavy rainfall from mid-November, leading to probable major flash floods in several states, and the monsoon season will last until early next year.

We would like to outline several precautionary measures for residents in flood-prone areas, from a community pharmacist’s point of view, to proactively mitigate flood damages ahead of the period and in the aftermath.

BEFORE A FLOOD
  • Closely monitor your surroundings and stay up to date on weather forecasts and warnings
  • Assemble disaster supplies, including long-term medications and first aid kits in water-proof bags in case of evacuation.
  • People, especially the elderly, with chronic diseases, are advised to visit their nearest pharmacy and bring along with their chronic medications, in order to keep a record in the pharmacy and have an up-to-date medication list; this will be useful should one lose the hard-copy of their prescription and face difficulties in retrieving their medication
AFTER A FLOOD
  • Due to poor sanitation and hygiene in flood areas, there is a high risk of flood-borne diseases such as leptospirosis, cholera, and dengue fever. Keep an eye out for general symptoms such as fever, headache, diarrhoea, muscle aches, and vomiting. In the case of any such symptoms, please visit the nearest healthcare centres immediately.
  • Alpro Pharmacy and DOC2US have launched the Life-saving Medication Care Programme, which provides a one-time supply of medications for up to 7 days for free. Those with contaminated or lost chronic disease medications can visit an Alpro Pharmacy outlet and speak to the pharmacist for more details. Note that a police report copy of the flooding is required for verification purposes.

Stay dry, stay safe!

Empowering Pharmacists to Better Serve The Nation

WORDS LIM EN NI

LIM EN NI
Chief Pharmacist
Alpro Pharmacy

For the longest time, the role of a pharmacist has been seen by many, even among those in the profession, as retailer of supplements and other healthcare products. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the general public have come to recognize the values community pharmacists bring.

MEDICATION SAFETY

Very often, patients with multiple non-communicable diseases (NCDs) were prescribed with medications by different doctors, they might not be aware of possible medical contradictions. They brought these medications to community pharmacists like me, and we helped them review and explain the dosage and possible side effects of each medicine. Most importantly, pharmacists ensure the safety of patients from medication errors.

ACCESSIBILITY

Pharmacies are usually open for long hours and pharmacists offer informal, appointment-free consultation. At the height of the pandemic when clinics and hospitals required COVID-19 screening prior to consultation with doctors and patients avoided going to high-risk places, community pharmacists filled the gap by offering advice on COVID-19 and other health related matters including basic health screening and re-filling much needed chronic prescriptions through collaboration with telemedicine providers.

SOLUTION-BASED SERVICES

In recent years, many product-based retail pharmacists have transited to community pharmacists with solution-based services, such as wound-care, smoking cessation service, and diabetic-care.

THUS, COMMUNITY PHARMACIES INFLUENCE NATIONAL HEALTH CARE PROGRESSION IN POSITIVE WAYS

It is high time for the Government to endorse community pharmacists as an integral part of community health and wellness by allocating funding for programmes in support of the Government’s efforts in creating a smoke-free generation, battling against NCDs and providing preventive care for the ageing population.

The inclusion of community pharmacists in the Government’s outreach plan will benefit the country as a whole, as it will ultimately reduce medical costs, improve population health, increase the quality of healthcare in Malaysia and contribute to the country’s GDP.

This year, The International Pharmaceutical Federation announced the theme of World Pharmacist Day 2022 as “Pharmacy United in Action for a Healthier World”. This theme invites comrades from all sectors of the pharmacy profession to take part in the campaign. Regardless of culture or point of view, the core duty of every pharmacist remains—to safeguard medication safety for everyone.

Reflections of a Pharmacist on Solidarity, Price Wars & Public Service

WORDS LIM KELVIN

LIM KELVIN
Pharmacist

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own. They do not reflect the opinions of his colleagues, associates, employer, and organizations he is affiliated with.

THE 25TH OF SEPTEMBER IS WORLD PHARMACISTS DAY

The official theme of the year is ‘Pharmacy united in action for a healthier world’.

The aim of this theme is to showcase the positive impact of pharmacists on health around the world and to further strengthen solidarity among the profession.

The keywords here are ‘united’ and ‘positive impact’.

THE POSITIVE IMPACT OF PHARMACISTS

In today’s healthcare landscape, pharmacists find themselves playing a new role, bestowed upon them by the public: they are the fact checkers and encyclopaedia for members of the public when it comes to everything and anything related to health. In other words, pharmacists are the new Alexa or Siri whenever someone has a question about health!

Pharmacists didn’t necessarily ask for or want this role, but it is one thrust upon us by a public that not only view us as the most accessible healthcare professionals in our society—members of the public also develop a trust in our knowledge after forming a rapport with us.

Our clients usually just walk into our outlet and obtain valuable health advice easily, with low or no cost at all.

With the advent of social media, we tend to become THE go-to person they talk to whenever they want to verify a health claim or ask about the latest health fad.

How pharmacists can step up for this role

To perform this role well, pharmacists need to be competent in their core field of pharmacotherapy, as well as to know a bit of everything in the realm of healthcare.

This is not a small feat to achieve, but it’s one that we need, to be able to guide our clients, or at least point them to the correct direction when there is no direct answer to their queries.

Having good research and analytical skills and keeping up with current updates are the 2 main paths for a pharmacist to become a good source of information.

Apart from pharmacists taking the initiative to do the necessary, our universities play a big role in instilling these skills in our pharmacy undergraduates, to enable them to cope with this new demand. So perhaps our fellow academicians can put more emphasis in this aspect.

Does it make a difference though, if we play this new role well?

Yes. Immensely.

In this world of information overload (or rather the age of misinformation), any Tom, Dick, and Harry can broadcast ‘health advice’ on social media.

As a result, members of the public are bombarded with equal amounts of information and misinformation.

Not everyone will be able to separate fact from fiction, even after googling for the answers, perhaps due to a lack of understanding of the information they found or to use the information to make an informed conclusion.

Pharmacists with years of training and experience will be in a better position to help members of the public digest complex terms and ideas into simple statements that they can more readily absorb. Even more so for the elderly and uneducated.

So, being a trusted point of reference is of utmost importance for our society right now. Apart from carrying out our core duties of being the custodians of medications, this new role positions us to impact the health of the world most significantly, positively.

PHARMACISTS IN SOLIDARITY

Then we arrive at the other key aspect of this year’s theme: unity.

Unity is not something we commonly see among retail or community pharmacies. The supposed fellowship and camaraderie had eroded more substantially in the recent years, mainly due to the intense competition between big pharmacy chains as well as price wars.

Competition was originally thought to be a positive force in keeping market prices low for the benefit of the consumer. However, when competition goes too far, it becomes unhealthy to both the profession and the consumer.

‘Tribal war’ among pharmacists?

Pharmacists have become more and more hostile to their counterparts from another ‘tribe’, due to the aforementioned competition.

They view each other as adversaries or even enemies, instead of colleagues.

This hinders cooperation between pharmacy groups. Even in times of medication shortage, a pharmacist is less likely to seek cooperation/help from other ‘tribes’, which in turn negatively impacts their clients’ welfare and the image of our profession.

Furthermore, smaller pharmacies not belonging to any big ‘tribes’ sometimes face unnecessary hostility from bigger tribes when these tribes migrate and open next to them en masse.

Almost in every town you can see 4 to 5 different pharmacies opening in the same stretch of shop-houses, and price wars inevitably make it near impossible for a stand-alone pharmacists to practice their trade professionally.

Still, price wars are good for the consumer… right?

Unfortunately this is not always true.

With drug prices being sold at cost or below cost, businesses have to to obtain profits through alternate channels. These channels can be additional sales of legitimate products or from some other less-ideal methods.

Either way, the interest of the client is not going to be the main focus anymore. Instead, sales, incentives, and targets take precedence over the client’s genuine needs.

This is NOT what most pharmacists want, but the nature of the industry is forcing more and more of them to sing to this tune. Furthermore, the end game for many price wars is monopolistic in nature, where absurd profits are to be reaped after a dominant force appears.

But what can pharmacists do about this? How do we unite?

Needless to say, it is going to be a gargantuan task, but we have to start somewhere.

Stay professional. Always be a pharmacist first, retailer or businessman second. I’m not asking you to go on strike or forego profits. Just be sure to put our client’s needs first in our every consideration.

From here, build bonds with your fellow pharmacists. Meet more pharmacists outside your workplace, so that you can find solutions to each other’s weaknesses. Cooperation not only benefits our customers in the long run; it also changes our views on competition.

Maintain mutual respect and keep competition healthy. Compete with each other to be the better pharmacist, to see who elevates our healthcare to a higher level. Don’t just compete in terms of profit and loss.

It’s up to us to create the future we want to live in. I always say I don’t want to grow old one day and have to doubt the advice given by my pharmacist for the fear of being ripped off or being coerced into buying something.

Talk to your management. Voice out what you feel is right or wrong whenever you have the opportunity. This doesn’t have to be confrontational, if we do it the right way. Only when there are enough voices saying the same thing, will things start to change.

Lastly, do actively support our professional body. With enough support and the right mindset, our profession can be more united to under this body, and we can all serve the public better.

A LAST NOTE: TO OUR CLIENTS

Cherish and support any pharmacist that gives you more value for your health rather than your wallet.

Granted, price is a big deciding factor when making any purchase, but as long as the difference is not too big, always support the one that truly cares for your health.

Hopefully with changes in the mindsets of both pharmacists and clients, the big divide caused by price and competition will slowly narrow and allow pharmacists can be more united in serving the public positively.

Rise of the Superbugs

WORDS LIM TECK CHOON

PROFESSOR CHIN BEEK YOKE
Associate Dean
School of Health Sciences
International Medical University

Superbug is a term coined to describe multi-drug resistant bacteria.

Medications that are usually effective on them, such as antibiotics, just don’t work as effectively anymore. “These are bacteria that circumvent the effects of antibiotics and proliferate or multiply uncontrollably in the host,” explains Professor Chin Beek Yoke.

EVERY BACTERIAL SPECIES CAN BE A SUPERBUG

Any species of bacteria can develop a resistance to antibiotics and become a superbug.

“Bacteria are very smart. They will mutate to overcome antibiotics. Once bacteria has the resistance gene in them, they can duplicate and combine with different species of bacteria. That’s how bacteria propagate their multi-drug resistance in nature,” Prof Chin shares.

WE HAVE A ROLE IN CREATING SUPERBUGS

According to Prof Chin, a key reason why superbugs are prevalent is the unnecessary and over-prescription of antibiotics.

GOOD HABITS TO ADOPT
  • Take antibiotics only when necessary. Diseases that are not caused by bacteria do not require antibiotics!
  • Complete your full course of antibiotics—finish all the antibiotics your doctor gave you. Don’t stop just because you think you are feeling better.
  • Avoid using unapproved or black market antibiotics that are not at full strength and do not work as effectively as genuine ones
IMPROPER DISPOSAL OF ANTIBIOTICS MAY ALSO PLAY A ROLE

People tend to dispose of antibiotics incorrectly, and this can be a problem.

“We pour it down the drain, or throw it into the trash. The excess antibiotics then get into our ecosystem, in the soil, or may end up in rivers and water bodies,” says Prof Chin.

GOOD HABIT TO ADOPT
The correct way to dispose of the extra antibiotics is to bring them to your nearest pharmacy. Many pharmacies are equipped to dispose of extra medicines in the appropriate manner.
THEN THERE’S THE ISSUE OF ANTIBIOTICS IN ANIMAL AND FISH FEED…

Another cause is the use of antibiotics in feed for domestic animals or fish. When humans consume the meat from these animals and fish, they also consume the residual antibiotics present in these products.

This unintended consumption of antibiotics may modify the bacterial environment in our bodies and render us susceptible to future bacterial infections.

GOOD HABIT TO ADOPT
Purchase foods that are obtained from sources that are free of antibiotics.
HOW TO MINIMIZE POSSIBLE CONTACT WITH SUPERBUGS

Multidrug resistant bacteria are everywhere, but we can do a few things to reduce coming in contact with them.

PRACTICE GOOD HYGIENE
  • Wipe surfaces and clean items that come into our household
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables after purchase, before storage, and before cooking. This will prevent the bacteria from propagating
  • If you wish to try fruits from stalls and supermarkets in order to ‘test before buying’, wipe them first with a wet wipe
  • Wear shoes and socks when travelling in areas where contaminated soil or water is prevalent
DON’T PANIC TOO MUCH ABOUT COMING IN CONTACT WITH SUPERBUGS, HOWEVER!

Prof Chin explains that having them on your skin alone doesn’t mean that you will become infected and suffer.

“Your skin is a very good protective organ,” she says. “Bacteria or pathogens can only enter when there is a cut. So, if you don’t have a cut or laceration, you will be fine. Just make sure to wash your hands and feet or any exposed areas.”

The same goes for the times when you ingest bacteria. “You will usually have enough stomach acid to kill these superbugs, and most of the time you have enough innate immune cells in your body to fight them off,” she explains.

However, people with health conditions that weaken their immune system should take precautions to reduce their odds of contracting bacterial infections; they should consult their doctor on the best ways to do this.

Why You Need to Dispose Unwanted and Unused Meds Properly, and One Convenient Solution to Do This

WORDS LIM TECK CHOON

ARE YOU DISPOSING YOUR UNWANTED OR UNUSED MEDICINES CORRECTLY?

If you gather all these medications and dump them into the trash bin, you’re not exactly doing it properly.

SO, HOW SHOULD YOU DO IT?

Well, the best way to dispose of unwanted or unused meds is to drop them off at a proper facility—a facility that is equipped to dispose of these medications in a manner that will not cause possible harm to other people as well as the environment.

HMM, WHERE IS THE NEAREST FACILITY TO DO THIS, THEN?

Well, as of the time of writing, there is a convenient drop-off point for all your unused and unwanted medications: the nearest CARiNG Pharmacy outlet.

This is made possible through the Do It Right programme, a collaboration between the Faculty of Pharmacy of Universiti Malaya and the pharmacy retail chain.

CARiNG Pharmacy outlets will operate as a drop-off point for these medications, which will then be transported to Kualiti Alam Incineration Centre for further processing and proper disposal.

“Unwanted medicines left at home are a safety issue. Over 10,205 people required hospitalization because of medicine poisonings across Malaysia. Unwanted medicines in homes pose a health hazard especially to children,” Loo Jooi Leng, the Marketing Director of CARiNG Pharmacy, says to us in order to explain the rationale of this programme.

YES, YOU CAN NOW DROP OFF YOUR UNUSED & EXPIRED MEDS AT ANY CARiNG OUTLET
Do It Right programme logo

  1. READ
    Read the labels of the medicines in your cabinet and check which are expired and no longer needed.
  2. REMOVE
    Remove the expired or unwanted medicines from your cabinet and place them into a bag.
  3. RETURN
    Return the bag to any CARiNG Pharmacy near you and their staff will place it in a secure bin for safe disposal.

For more information on the Do It Right programme, you can visit their website (link opens in a new tab).