The pharmacy sector in Malaysia can be largely separated into two divisions: the public sector, and the private community pharmacy. There are pharmacists who work in alternative or other niche areas, but their numbers are relatively small in comparison. This article will focus on community pharmacists, and attempt to provide an overall description of the profession locally.

Significant imbalance between number of pharmacists vs the population

The private pharmacy sector employs almost one-third of all pharmacists in the country. In 2013, this figure stood at 3,325 pharmacists, then in 2016 rose to a total of 4,133 Type A License holders, and 3,094 registered community pharmacists managing a retail store in Malaysia (1). Although the number of community pharmacists has risen, it still pales in comparison to the total Malaysian population. There is a significant imbalance between the number of pharmacists against the population. In 2013, the ratio was reported as one pharmacist per 2,949 population; and it only improved slightly to one pharmacist per 2,900 population in 2015 (2,3).


Similarly, the number of pharmacy stores in the country is small in comparison to the growing numbers of the nation’s population. In 2011, the Pharmaceutical Service Division recorded a total of 1,854 operational pharmacies. Of these, most were concentrated in the state of Selangor (427 stores), Penang (219 stores) and the federal territory of Kuala Lumpur (216 stores). The state of Terengganu and Perlis reported the least number of pharmacies, only 26 and 13 respectively (4). The uneven distribution of community pharmacies reflected the lack of regulation on pharmacy zoning.

Unlike certain western countries, there is no regulation to control the location of these stores and it is common to see several competing pharmacies in the same area. Not only will such a practice lead to unhealthy business competition, but these pharmacists also have effectively neglected those who live in less “popular” areas.

Expected increase in number of community pharmacists

However, the number of community pharmacies is expected to rise significantly in the coming years. A recent study showed that the number had increased by 40% in 2014, after just a short three-year span from the 2011 baseline (5). Additionally, the government had allowed provisionally registered pharmacists to practice in the community setting. It is expected that such policy changes will further stimulate more pharmacists to venture into the private sector.

The 2012 National Survey on the Use of Medicine (NSUM) revealed that almost 40% of Malaysians consume pharmaceutical products, traditional health supplements or beauty products at some point in their lives. From this group, over one quarter suffered from chronic diseases that required long-term medication. The survey also uncovered the spending habit of these consumers. More than 70% of them obtained their medicine supplies from retail pharmacies (6).

Limited opportunity in dispensing prescription medicine

Nonetheless, community pharmacists do not enjoy the privilege of dispensing separation as compared to their counterparts in other countries. The limited opportunity to dispense prescription medicine has forced many to explore alternative options and to diversify their roles, especially into the supply of health supplements, home care and beauty products. Community pharmacists are also deprived of the opportunity to fully utilise their professional knowledge and clinical skills. Many interactions in the community pharmacy are limited to healthy customers seeking advice on personal health and beauty issues.

Other healthcare professionals also hold mixed views about community pharmacists. A study conducted among general medical practitioners in 2009 showed that less than 50% of GPs would consider community pharmacists' recommendation over prescription issues (7). The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) also strongly opposed the proposal for dispensing separation (5).

Moving ahead, there is no doubt that community pharmacy has undergone considerable changes since its first establishment in the country. There is much potential to be expected from fellow community pharmacists to improving the health of the country and to further develop this noble profession. MIMS

Read more:
A snapshot of the Malaysian pharmaceutical industry
Career as a community pharmacist: What does it entail?
Career development for Malaysian pharmacists: Hospital or Community Pharmacy?

Sources:
1. Tan CLH, Gan VBY. Pharmacy Value Added Services: Early Beginnings, Current Implementation, And Challenges From The Malaysian Experience. Indian J Pharm Educ Res. 2016 Aug 1;50(3):335–43.
2. Ministry of Health Malaysia. Health Facts 2015. 2016.
3. Ministry of Health Malaysia. Health Facts 2013. 2014.
4. Pharmaceutical Service Division. Bilangan Farmasi Komuniti di Malaysia Mengikut Negeri [Internet]. pharmacy.gov.my. 2013 [cited 2016 Oct 2]. Available from: http://www.pharmacy.gov.my/v2/ms/content/bilangan-farmasi-komuniti-malaysia-mengikut-negeri.html
5. Hassali M, Li V, See O. Pharmacy practice in Malaysia. J Pharm Pract Res. 2014;44:125–8.
6. Ministry of Health Malaysia. A NATIONAL SURVEY ON THE USE OF MEDICINES (NSUM) BY MALAYSIAN CONSUMERS. 2013.
7. Hassali MA, Awaisu A, Shafie AA, Saeed MS. Professional training and roles of community pharmacists in Malaysia: Views from general medical practitioners. Malaysian Fam Physician. 2009;4(2–3):7.