Customers bemoan closure of popular drug market
With the help of a cane, 80-year-old Naryoh walked into the Pramuka Market in East Jakarta in search of the eye drops she would usually buy from a drugstore in the market to help her fight a cataract.
Even though a security officer repeatedly told her that all the stores were closed, she insisted on continuing her search and only stopped upon seeing that the four-story building was empty. “Are they really closed? All of them?” asked the resident of Wisma Jaya in Bekasi, West Java, who travelled by bus.
She said she regularly used the eye drop, called OETM, as she suffered from visual impairment at her old age. “They were easy to find here. Once in three months I would come here to buy them,” she added.
She said she refused to be treated at the hospital because of the possibly high admission fee, explaining that she did not want to burden her children.
Desta Satriyadi, 47, had rushed to the Pramuka Market on Tuesday morning, traveling nearly 70 kilometers by motorbike from his house in Karawang, West Java, to look for, among other things, an ointment called Steroderm to heal an eczema, which he said he struggled to find elsewhere.
Learning that the drugstores at the market, touted as one of the biggest pharmaceutical hubs in the country, weren’t operating that day, he decided to stay in the city for another day, sleeping at a relative’s house in Kemayoran, East Jakarta, and came back to the market the following day, only to find a similar situation.
“I hope they will resume operations soon. I’ve always come here to look for drugs, because the price is a lot lower,” said the private-sector employee, adding that the prices at the market were generally 30 percent below those at other drugstores.
Unaware of the closure that took effect on Monday, people kept coming to the market. Some 50 had arrived as of Wednesday, said a parking attendant named Anwar. The store owners have been forced to cease operations until they apply for and are granted pharmacy licenses from the government.
Most of the regular customers, who would typically visit the market to buy generic drugs or herbal medicine paid for out of pocket, lament the closure.
The government’s universal health insurance program JKN, launched a few years ago and managed by the Health Care and Social Security Agency (BPJS Kesehatan), does not cover expenses for many kinds of drugs.
The pharmaceutical hub, established in the 1970s, housed 403 kiosks and around 250 vendors. It is known as the People’s Pharmacy due to its affordable prices and a wide range of drugs difficult to find at regular pharmacies. Their business activities were backed by Health Ministry Regulation No. 284/2007 on public pharmacies, which allowed them to sell drugs to the public like a licensed pharmacy.
However, following the emergence of fake vaccines, the Health Ministry revoked the regulation in October last year to tighten control over drugs circulating in the country, depriving the drugstores at the market of their legal basis.
The store owners had been given time until June this year to apply for pharmaceutical licenses, but had only recently begun to submit the necessary documents, Jakarta Health Agency head Koesmedi Priharto said.
“Their operations are not legal now. If they continue operations, they will have to deal with the police,” he said.
The absence of a legal umbrella led to a number of raids carried out by city authorities, as the vendors were often accused of distributing illegal drugs and vaccines in the city, resulting in a significant decline in their income, said Yoyon, the secretarygeneral of the Pramuka Market Drug Sellers Association.
The requirements to apply for the license include hiring pharmacists and expanding the kiosks to 4x4 square meters from the current 2x2 sq-m.
“We want to abide by the law, but we also demand a relaxed policy on the kiosk size. I hope the government can assist us, otherwise many people will turn jobless,” he said, adding that in the last few months, his monthly gross income had plunged to around Rp 4 million (US$296) from previously Rp 10 million.
Empty lot: A man stands on the second floor of the deserted Pramuka Market in East Jakarta. Most stores at the market, tauted as one of the biggest pharmaceutical hubs in the country, ceased operations on Monday. Owners of the stores have applied for pharmacy licenses from the government.