The health authorities will be distributing a replacement for the blood-pressure drug valsartan in the coming days.
Those who take the drug have been advised to contact their doctor after the European Medicines Agency raised the alarm over a key ingredient found to contain an impurity – a chemical that could pose a cancer risk.
The Health Ministry initially told the Times of Malta that stock of uncontaminated valsartan should have been available in pharmacies last week. However, pharmacists who spoke to the Times of Malta at the beginning of this week said they had not yet received uncontaminated valsartan.
Asked when the government would be making the new valsartan available to patients, a spokeswoman said stock of canderstan, a direct replacement of valsartan, started arriving last week.
The authorities were in the process of receiving more consignments this week, ensuring enough stock for the continuation of treatment.
They had not yet received uncontaminated valsartan
“We expect to be able to start distributions to pharmacies over the next few days,” the spokeswoman said.
Some 27,000 patients in Malta take valsartan through the government’s Pharmacy of Your Choice scheme and local health experts have warned that continuing to take the medication in the short term was less risky than stopping it abruptly.
Pharmacists, meanwhile, insisted on the importance of patients speaking to their GPs, who could recommend an alternative from the government formulary or one available from chemists for a fee.
The Health Ministry spokeswoman said that about 2,250 patients were dispensed with an alternative medicine to valsartan since the issue arose.
Patients who were not given alternative medicine via POYC most likely continued consuming the valsartan they had or bought an alternative, given that patients have been repeatedly warned not to stop taking their antihypertension medication.
European regulators have said the drug, manufactured in bulk by a Chinese company and sold worldwide, might have contained an impurity linked to cancer since 2012.
The revelation that the problem likely dates back to changes in manufacturing processes at Zhejiang Huahai Pharmaceutical six years ago suggests many patients could have been exposed to cancer risk.