Wed, 11 Jun 2003

Pramuka market, where good and evil collide

When President Megawati Soekarnoputri claimed earlier this month that she was given fake drugs by a presidential doctor, the public was sparked once again by the persistent problem of fake medicines.

The major source for such fake medicines, which was later cited in the mass media by pharmaceutical experts and officials, is Pramuka market in East Jakarta.

Pramuka market has been a host to about 330 drugstores, registered or unregistered, since 1992. The head of the market, Krenius P, said that the market's vendors formerly did business at Jatinegara market, also East Jakarta.

These vendors provide a variety of over-the-counter and prescription medicines. They also provide vaccines stored in refrigerators, medical equipment and anything related to medicine or health care. Most of the attendants, although not licensed pharmacists, can read prescriptions.

"People can even find the most sophisticated surgical equipment at the market," Amir Hamzah Pane, chairman of the Indonesian Pharmaceutical Watch, told The Jakarta Post. "Once, I even heard that the newest medicines from the U.S. were also available there."

People can buy medicines at the market at prices up to 30 percent lower than those at registered pharmacies, locally known as apotik.

One of the reasons why the prices are lower is because unlike apotik, such dru stores are not required to pay high salaries to pharmacists, nor taxes to the government.

"They can hire lower-paid elementary-school graduates as attendants," said Amir.

Reports also say that the medicines sold at the market come from "illegal" sources, like producers of fake drugs and embezzlers of government-subsidized medicines.

The vendors also obtain medicines from other sources.

"For example, a patient who has bought a one-week prescription and is cured in only two days, may sell his remaining pills to stores at the market," said Amir.

Buyers can find nearly-expired or even expired drugs at the market, but new and genuine medicines are also available.

However, even though the market may harbor all kinds of dirty deals, there are some advantages about the market.

Krenius said that people who came to the market were not only retailers: "There are also doctors, officials from hospitals and relatives of sick people who can only afford to buy cheap medicines."

He added, "And they are not only Jakartans. Once, I knew a doctor from Kalimantan who bought a bulk order of medicines. Recently, some buyers came to purchase drugs for a humanitarian aid package for the Acehnese," he said.

Amir also noticed that a lot of people, especially those from the lower-income bracket, relied on Pramuka market as a provider of cheaper medicines.

"We have to view Pramuka market wisely, and in context. Although evil things happen there, people apparently need it, as it offers lower prices for poor people," he said.