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Pharmacies struggle to stock goods amid virus fears

Va Sonyka and Som Kanika / Khmer Times Share:
People at a pharmacy stand in Phnom Penh. KT/Siv Channa

Since the beginning of this year, cases have spread from where the outbreak was first recorded in China’s Wuhan city to other countries, including Cambodia, with 110 confirmed cases as of yesterday.

Many pharmacies are running out of medical equipment and supplies such as masks, gloves, handsanitisers and medication amid skyrocketting prices due to novel coronavirus fears.

Va Sonyka and Som Kanika spoke to local shop owners to gain insight on how businesses have been affected since the COVID-19 outbreak earlier this year.

Meng Kang, a pharmacist in training, said rumours and fake news about the novel coronavirus are causing people to stock up on medicine.

“Most people, especially senior citizens with diseases, are stocking up on daily medication,” Mr Kang said. “They’re getting Vitamin C supplements and alcohol-based hand sanitisers.”

He said his place of employment, the Chroy Chongva Pharmacy, is still able to replenish medical supplies, but some suppliers are taking advantage of the rising demand for goods amid the COVID-19 crisis.

According to UCare Pharmacy, the spread of the virus has made prices of medical equipment, especially surgical masks, rise tenfold.

UCare said many pharmacies in the Kingdom are also experiencing supply shortages after customers flocked to shops and purchased massive amounts of equipment and medicine.

Clément Chabot, general manager of a UCare branch, said his pharmacy has so far been able to consistently stock up on medical goods, but the availability of some equipment such as masks and gloves, heavily depends on suppliers.

“There are two main reasons why we cannot buy large quantities of masks and gloves. These products are becoming more and more difficult to find in Cambodia,” Mr Chabot said.

“We spend a lot of time looking for products which meet international standards. This situation leads to a huge price increase for available products,” he added. “Suppliers increase prices and ask five to 10 times more compared with before the outbreak.”

Mr Chabot said UCare has the policy to maintain reasonable prices for its customers. He said when the prices of goods are too high, the pharmacy will choose to not restock.

A worker at Guardian, a pharmacy in Phnom Penh, who declined to be named said the prices of paracetamol and Doliprane have increased following high demand.

“The number of people who come to pharmacies and the amount of the medicine they want have increased,” the worker said. “We cannot neglect the assumption that if there is a state of emergency someday, pharmacies would also close because of financial problems.”

“People with chronic diseases will be affected because they need daily medication,” the worker added.

Thorn Richnny, a pharmacist for Neak Mean Rith Pharmacy, said his company struggles to provide a continuous stream of medical goods to its customers because demand is high and producers are slow to meet needs, especially importers.

“The price of medicine will increase when stocks are low and demand is high,” Ms Richnny said. “Therefore, we charge higher prices for replenished stocks.”

“Whether the prices will go back to normal or continue to increase depends on the suppliers,” she added. “Our pharmacy will [set prices] following market demands.”

Ms Richnny noted she’s noticed people stocking up on medical goods following the COVID-19 global outbreak.

“Everyone rushes to buy anything they can whether they have received accurate information [about the virus] or not,” she said.

“However, the prices of hand sanitiser have dropped compared with when the outbreak first made the news,” Ms Richnny added. “Prime Minister Hun Sen has also warned against [increasing the prices of hand sanitisers].”

The Health Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday, according to the Law on the Management of Pharmaceuticals, medicine and health equipment must bear ministry registration numbers and sellers are required to have permits.

It also said medical products must be sold in pharmacies, not on online marketplaces.

Mr Hun Sen earlier this week said he will not allow citizens to suffer because of a lack of hygiene products.

He said local factories must produce face masks and alcohol-based sanitisers for doctors and the general public.

“We have enough stock of medical equipment for doctors and the public, so do not worry,” he said, adding a factory in Sihanoukville is producing surgical masks and other equipments are being produced in Kampong Cham and Svay Rieng provinces.

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