As one moves around the rural and urban areas, people are seen purchasing drugs/medicines from pharmacies and drug shops with or without prescriptions. In fact, the majority of the clients who come to buy these drugs already decided on their own which drugs are the best fit for them.
According to the World Health Organization, self-medication (SM) is defined as the selection and utilization of medicines to treat self-recognized symptoms or ailments without consulting a health worker. It also includes the usage or re-usage of previously prescribed or unused drugs, direct purchasing of prescription drugs without consultation, and irrational use of over-the-counter drugs. Self-medication is a significant concern worldwide, affecting both developed and developing countries. Research has shown that self-medication is a common practice, with a prevalence of 32.5–81.5% worldwide.
Furthermore, the most commonly self-prescribed medications are analgesics aka pain reliefs, antipyretics (reduce temperature), antitussives (cough suppressors), antidiarrheals, calcium and vitamin supplements, anabolic steroids, sedatives, certain antibiotics, and many herbal and homoeopathic remedies.
Though self-medication empowers people in the community to make decisions about the management of minor ailments independently, it has negative impacts such as drug resistance, incorrect dosage, incorrect choice of therapy, drug overdose, masking of severe diseases, risk of drug dependence, dangerous drug interactions, incorrect self-diagnosis, delay in seeking medical advice, drug underside, non-adherence, adverse drug reactions, drug abuse, drug toxicity, prolonged duration of use, wastage of resources, increased resistance to pathogens among others.
The most common causes and reasons for self-medication identified include; emergency use, management of mid-disease conditions, it’s time-saving, prior experience with the medicine, unregulated distribution of medicines, inadequacies in healthcare systems such as inaccessibility, lack of healthcare professionals, high hospital costs, and patients’ attitudes towards healthcare providers among others.
However, before promoting self-medication, we recommend the following;
- Understanding of the label and leaflet accompanying the medicines should be improved to create awareness in the community.
- Encouraging people to attend behavioural programs in-order to understand stress management techniques and gain confidence rather than drug dependence.
- Health education on adverse implications of self-medication should focus on both the health care professionals and general public at large.
- There is a need for legislation and enforcement of the existing laws to discourage uncontrolled access to prescription-only medication while over-the-counter drugs should be used only when there is an absolute need.
- There should be formulation and implementation of policies that will ensure the regulation of the purchase of medication.
The authors are: Aisha Naava, a Nursing Officer working with Kawolo General Hospital and
Lillian Nuwabaine, a Nurse-Midwife and Women’s’ Health Specialist working with Aga Khan University