Wednesday, February 26, 2014

What? ‘Helping’ the people with expired medication and food stuff!

Sonia Ramachandran
PETALING JAYA: Setting up the 1Malaysia Clinic and Kedai Rakyat 1Malaysia is a laudable move by the government. They go a long way to ease the burden of economically disadvantaged Malaysians, especially with the rising prices of goods and services.

However, just because the target audience happens to be the economically "disadvantaged", it does not mean they deserve inferior quality products.

On Feb 19, an online news portal reported that a 10-year-old girl who sought treatment for diarrhoea at a 1Malaysia Clinic saw her symptoms worsen dramatically after being allegedly given expired medication.

In 2011, the Malaysian Association of Standards Users tested chilli sauce according to the specifications under the Food Regulations Act 1985 from various outlets in the Klang Valley, including the Kedai Rakyat 1Malaysia.

What they found was lead and mercury above permitted levels in the Kedai Rakyat 1Malaysia brand of chilli sauce.

"Both lead and mercury are heavy metals that accumulate in the body over time and can lead to nervous system disorders.

"Just because you offer the public cheap stuff, you cannot compromise on safety. The Food Regulations specify the minimum standards and if you can't even comply with that then you better not be in the food business," said Malaysian Association of Standards Users CEO Ratna Devi Nadarajan.

She told theantdaily that one of the eight consumer rights derived from the United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection (UNGCP) is the right to safety.

"Safety is something that cannot be compromised on all over the world, irrespective of whether a product's shelf-life is long or short.

"And one way of communicating to the public whether a product is safe or not is through its expiry date," said Ratna.

She said dispensing expired medication was something that was "unacceptable" and urged the National Pharmaceutical Control Bureau (NPCB) and the Drug Control Authority to actively carry out market surveillance on both public and private healthcare facilities to ensure the medication dispensed is fit for human consumption.

"Medication is actually chemicals. When they are past their expiry date, they might lose their efficacy and therefore the dosage prescribed may not work on the patient and sometimes even worsen the person's condition.

"Sometimes the degradation of the medication over time may result in by-products which may be hazardous to a person's health.

"Take Vitamin C for example. It can react with the air and humidity in the atmosphere and be easily oxidised, which turns it into a product that is no longer Vitamin C. Therefore you might be taking the vitamin but not deriving any benefit from it," said Ratna.

She pointed out that the Federation of Malaysian Consumer Associations (Fomca) had in October 2013 carried out surprise inspections at three hypermarkets in the Klang Valley and found over 75 expired items on their shelves.

The items included canned and dry goods, titbits, frozen food and dairy products. There were also several products without expiry dates.

"When our staff were in one of the stores, they saw one of the employees replace the expiry date on some packets of tofu that were obviously discoloured. What qualifies him (worker) to determine the expiry date on food?

"The economically disadvantaged are already a vulnerable group and to treat them this way is not fair and contradictory to the universal consumer right to safe products and services.

"They are already disadvantaged economically and if they consume unsafe medicine and food, this may lead to more serious complications which they may not be able to afford to treat," said Ratna.

Yes, the government deserves a pat on the back for helping the economically disadvantaged but its enforcement agencies should buck up to ensure this "help" truly benefits the people rather than burdens them.

~ The Ant Daily

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