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ENSURES TIMELY DELIVERY OF MEDICINES TO REMOTE AREAS

09/06/2023 03:51 PM
From Nurqalby Mohd Reda

Pius Anak Lagon, who lives in Nanga Merit in the interior of Kapit, Sarawak, recalls how his fellow villagers and he used to travel over two hours by boat to obtain the medicines they need at Hospital Kapit.

“More than a decade ago, it used to be very difficult for us to get medicines. Even if we were just having a fever, we had to fork out up to RM150 per person to travel by boat (to Kapit). It includes hotel accommodation because we had to stay a night (in Kapit) because the boat plies between Nanga Merit and Kapit and back only once a day in the morning.

“Actually, it wasn’t worthwhile as the amount we spent on the trip was much more than the actual cost of the medicines,” he told reporters.  

Although Nanga Merit had its own government clinic, at times however it ran out of stock for weeks, forcing the villagers to travel to the government hospital in Kapit to procure the medicines they need.

The situation, fortunately, changed 10 years ago when the government clinic in Nanga Merit started receiving its stock from medicine and medical supplies concessionaire Pharmaniaga Logistics Sdn Bhd (PLSB).

“Since then, there was no longer any need for us to go to Kapit as the clinic here never runs out of supplies,” said Pius, 50, who is a member of the Beketan ethnic group and is the headman of the Nanga Banyau Merit longhouse in Nanga Merit.


Nanga Banyau Merit longhouse

PLSB is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Pharmaniaga Bhd, the company appointed by the government to provide pharmaceutical logistics and distribution services. Currently, the group serves almost 2,000 government health facilities throughout the country, including providing door-to-door deliveries to clinics located in the remote areas of Sabah and Sarawak.

 

NOT AN EASY JOB

Recently, a group of journalists from Peninsular Malaysia were invited by PLSB to participate in one of their trips to deliver medicines from the company’s warehouse in Kuching to the Nanga Merit government clinic.

Opened in 1973, the clinic not only serves the 21 families residing at the Nanga Banyau Merit longhouse but also people of various ethnicities such as Iban, Beketan, Malay, Kayan and Bidayuh from 36 other villages in the Nanga Kapit area.

As the participating journalists discovered, the task of delivering the medicines to the clinic concerned was far from an easy one. First, they had to travel in a four-wheel-drive (4WD) vehicle to Kapit via the Pan Borneo Highway. After the tiring 10-hour trip, they spent the night at a hotel in Kapit.

The following day, the convoy continued their journey to their destination. There is a logging road now connecting Kapit to Nanga Merit but it is narrow, steep and bumpy and by the time they reached the remote area three hours later, their bodies ached from all that “bouncing” they had to endure in their 4WD vehicle.

They were lucky it did not rain that day as wet weather would have worsened the road conditions.

At Nanga Merit, they took a 15-minute boat ride across the mighty crocodile-infested Sungai Rajang where the government clinic is located.


Nanga Merit Health Clinic

Kuching Pharmaniaga logistics manager Dayang Norfazilah Awang Zaidil told the journalists they often encountered difficulties whilst making deliveries to remote and interior areas in Sarawak. However, despite the obstacles they face, the delivery teams will do whatever it takes to ensure the supplies reach their destinations on time.

“In Peninsular Malaysia, MOH (Ministry of Health) gives PLSB seven working days for the medicines to arrive at the health facilities there. In Sabah and Sarawak, we are given 10 working days.

“However, we do our best to make sure the medicines arrive at their destinations before the scheduled date,” she said.

As for the PLSB team involved in transporting medicines and other supplies to the Nanga Merit government clinic, they need to leave the Kuching Pharmaniaga warehouse by midnight to ensure the stock reaches the facility at about 8 am.

“The situation is the same in other interior districts or locations. There are times when a route is impassable (due to various reasons) and when this happens, our transporters are forced to walk to their destination and they use a wheelbarrow to transport the medical supplies. They resort to this to ensure the medicines reach their destination on time,” she said.

According to Dayang Norfazilah, among the challenges faced by PLSB in Sarawak are landslide occurrences and damaged roads. Travelling by boat can also become problematic if the water levels of rivers subside, she pointed out.


Pharmaniaga staff on the way to deliver medicine to the Nanga Merit Health Clinic.

However, she stressed, regardless of the challenges, PLSB is committed to the timely delivery of medicines and health devices throughout the state.

 

BACKBONE OF MOH

Meanwhile, Pharmaniaga corporate communications director Datuk Zuhri Iskandar Kamarzaman said having been in the pharmaceutical industry for nearly 28 years, the company is always ready to improve its logistics services, particularly in terms of the delivery of medicines.

He said Pharmaniaga currently has 15 logistics and distribution centres at strategic locations nationwide.

With a fleet of over 300 vehicles, these centres carry out 450,000 deliveries via air, water and land every year.


Pharmaniaga delivers a variety of medicines to clinics across the country, particularly to rural areas.

“We’re like the backbone of MOH in terms of distribution and production of medicines and medical products. I admit many people only know of us as a drug manufacturer and are not aware of our role in the provision of this logistics service.

“Nevertheless, I am grateful for our company’s achievements to date. Several years back, it used to take about a month for medicines to be transported to interior areas in Sabah and Sarawak but now it takes less than two weeks for the people there to get their supplies,” he said.


Pharmaniaga staff hand over medicine to Nanga Merit Health Clinic

Zuhri Iskandar said Pharmaniaga also has complete facilities at all levels, from storage to delivery, to ensure their supplies remain in good condition, adding that pharmaceutical companies are required to comply with the standards set by MOH’s pharmaceutical regulatory division.

“Although we face the risk of incurring losses arising from damaged or expired medicines, we are committed to fulfilling the responsibility given to us to supply medicines to the people, in line with Pharmaniaga’s motto ‘Passion for Patients’,” he stressed.

 

Translated by Rema Nambiar

 

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