Providing Halal Pharmaceutical Options to Muslims

The Islamic achievements in medieval medicine were groundbreaking. Muslim scholars spearheaded the impressive growth and discoveries in many scientific fields, especially pharmaceuticals. They were, in fact, acknowledged as the founders of modern medicines.

In spite of all this, however, Muslims today are still finding themselves shut out to having halal pharmaceuticals and medicines as an option. For the record, the pharmaceutical industry is made up of two main sub-sectors, the medicines and the health; and dietary supplements.

“Medicines are constantly in demand, regardless of economic conditions. Supplements are for wellness, immunity and energy. It is a preventive and promotive healthcare option. At the moment, all segments offer very little information on Halal status to Muslims,” said Amrahi Buang, former Chief Pharmacist and Deputy Director University Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC).

Amrahi pointed to the Medicines Partnership Programme established by the Department of Health, United Kingdom in 2002 as an example of providing informed choice for medicines. The programme promotes the concept of concordance – or shared decision-making – as an approach to help patients to get the most from their medicines.

But even based on their past achievements alone, Muslims today actually have the innate right to halal medications. They should also have the right to choose, and be informed of, and to give consent for any use of non-halal medications, or at least porcine-derived medications, either on us or for our loved ones. In short, all pharmaceutical products must be properly labelled if it is sourced from animals either bovine or porcine.

The mismatch is real. Currently, the global halal pharmaceutical supply is meeting only 3% of the global halal demand [see slide 30]. The estimated global demand for halal medicines, including the innovators, generics and biosimilar is worth approximately USD82 billion a year. Compare this against the global demand for all medicines, which surpasses the USD1 trillion mark annually.

Spurred by various factors including the growth of the global Muslim population, the rising education and income level amongst Muslim consumers, the global halal pharmaceutical market today is indeed burgeoning. Increased awareness over the present use of non-halal certified medicines is also playing an important role in spurring the demand for halal pharmaceuticals and medicines.

This mismatch has also prompted more global manufacturers to take notice and commenced R&D tests to replace animal-based ingredients such as gelatin, enzymes and emulsifiers, with plant-based ingredients. This inadvertently increases the demand for a globally recognized halal certification from competent authorities.

Being the only country with its own standard Halal Pharmaceutical guidelines, the MS2424:2012, which is, in fact, the first halal pharmaceutical guidelines ever produced in the world, Malaysia is expected to benefit directly from this impending trend.

When a pharmaceutical product complies with MS2424, it also means that it complies with the guidelines established not just by the Malaysian Ministry of Health, but also with industry-standard Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP), as well as the standards set by the Pharmaceutical Inspection Cooperation Scheme (PIC/S).

The PIC/S is a non-binding, informal co-operative arrangement between regulatory authorities in Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) of medicinal products for human or veterinary use. The scheme is open to any authority having a comparable GMP inspection system. PIC/S presently comprises 52 participating authorities from all over the world, including Europe, Africa, America, Asia and Australasia.

“The halal pharmaceutical industry is really a very controlled environment when looking at it closely. By having the first gatekeeper under the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA), which is the Malaysian law to produce products that comply with GMP guidelines; and then the second gatekeeper, JAKIM for the halal audit, which is voluntary. The Halal audit uses the MS:2424 standard and their own Halal Manual Procedure that vouch for the products of Syar’iah-compliant form and nature,” Amrahi further explained.

As a matter of policy in Malaysia, the Drug Control Authority (DCA) only allows the use of halal labels on cosmetics, traditional medicines, health supplements and over-the-counter (OTC) products. This is sure to provide better options and choices for Muslim consumers, not just in Malaysia but also worldwide.

Malaysia’s seriousness in tapping the global halal pharmaceutical market is also evident with the government’s inclusion of references to Halal Pharmacopoeia & Alternative listing within the National Medicines Policy, developed under the Economic Transformation Programme’s (ETP) National Key Economic Areas (NKEA).

To date, there are over 4,000 halal-certified products in the market, produced by at least five local industries players. This number will obviously increase as the halal pharmaceutical industry unravels itself, both locally and abroad.

Truth is, halal-certified pharmaceutical products not only benefit the Muslims but also is for everyone. Not only because of its wholesomeness (or the toyyiban aspect), it is also guaranteed as safe for consumption, hygienically produced with a high-quality standard of production and ingredients or materials used, as well as being assured of the product’s efficacy or effectiveness.

Halal pharmaceuticals, without doubt, has arrived at its intended time and place, which is now, here in Malaysia.

** As published in the H MAG 2019, a special edition print in conjunction with the Global Halal Summit (GHaS 2019), Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, April 2019. For further inquiries or more insights, kindly get in touch.