Despite the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria Law No 91, 1992 that prohibits self-medication in the country, many Nigerians have remained adamant on carrying on with the practice.
For many, self-medication has become a normal part of their lives, that they see nothing wrong with popping pills that are not prescribed by a certified health worker charged to do so.
For a lot of them, once they have a headache or fever that has persisted, the next line of action is to go to the drug store(popularly known as Chemist) in their area to buy drugs for an ailment that wasn’t diagnosed by a doctor, ignoring the fact that many ailments possess the same type of symptoms but definitely not the same mode of treatment.
In a lot of instances, their nearest doctor is a neighbour or a family member who claims to have had similar symptoms and what drugs they took at the time.
Spending as little as 30 minutes in any pharmaceutical store in most part of Nigeria, will serve as an instant eye-opener as to how many Nigerians self medicate and the frequency is totally disheartening.
Why do people self medicate? Are there implications to self-medication, who is the culprit, what has been done to tackle this problem, is government to blame, all these critical questions prompted to look into this health menace.
Information Nigeria visited a pharmaceutical store around Iju-Ishaga on a very pleasant Thursday evening. Many customers were seen standing at the entrance of the drug store, while some were at the counter of the pharmacy, waiting patiently to be attended to one after the other. The first question that comes to mind is, is the drug seller a certified pharmacy? Are the customers with a doctor’s prescription? Are the medicines prescription drugs, antibiotics or normal over the counter painkillers?
Just as these questions were roaming in my head, a woman approaches the pharmacy with a baby strapped to her back. She looked distressed as she walked hastily to the door to get the attention of the drug seller. She narrates that her child has had high temperature since the previous day and it got very worse at night.
The drug seller asks the woman how old her baby is. Nine months old, she responded. The seller further probed on what she has given the baby and if the baby has been vomiting and stooling. She quickly gives her answers to these questions.
“My baby has been very weak and has refused to eat anything. Even when you breastfeed her, she seems very uninterested. My neighbour suggested that I treat her for malaria but I thought it was better to come here with my baby,’’ she said.
The drug seller tells her to buy malaria drugs and a drug he described as antibiotics and prescribes the dosage for the woman, who pays and leaves, a little bit relieved.
No sort of medical examination was conducted to ascertain what the problem with the young child truly was, no weight was taken, just a mere reliance on the belief that the drug store has been in the area for many years, and as such, remains credible and reliant.
More customers approached the drug seller, whom I couldn’t ascertain if he’s a certified pharmacist or someone who learnt the trade from another uncertified drug store owner. In their numbers, they reeled out their symptoms and like a pro, the drug seller dished out prescriptions to their various complains. In the over 40 minutes that I stood there like I was waiting for someone, only a handful of the customers came with a doctor’s prescription.
What is self medication
According to sciencedirect.com, self-medication is self-consuming of medication without getting advice from a physician for either diagnosis or treatment.
Many Nigerians, for one reason or the other, have become accustomed to medicating themselves.
Whether it’s through traditional or pharmaceutical unregistered dealer, Nigerians have found a way to help themselves medically, without any recourse to the dire implications of such habit.
Living in Lagos, it wouldn’t be strange to find unregistered ‘pharmacists’ advertising and selling one form of orthodox or herbal drug to passengers in one of the city’s commercial vehicles known as ‘danfo’.
However, most shocking is the way these passengers pay attention to these unregistered drug seller and order their drugs one after the other like a harvest bazaar in my favourite catholic church.
As if this isn’t shocking enough, you get off the bus and find someone sitting with a tray at the bus station, motor park or market place, selling medicines ranging from prescription painkillers and antibiotics to over the counter painkillers and nonprescription drugs.
Tarry for a little as 10 minutes, the ‘pharmacists’ are already prescribing drugs to customers and it leaves you wondering if people no longer value their lives. Worried about this menace, Information Nigeria spoke with some Lagosians on why they self medicate and here’s what they said.
Nigerians tell us why they prefer self-medication
Izu Okomah, a spare parts dealer at Ladipo market around Oshodi, Lagos, said it is very easy for him to go a pharmacy store, explain his symptoms and the ‘pharmacist’ prescribes drugs to help him get rid of them rather than go the hospital.
According to him, “for me, it is cheaper and faster. By the time you go to the hospital, they waste your time and drain your pocket. You will pay for card and consultation, then they would ask you to go and do test. All these things cost money and waste time. So chemist is the best,” he said.
Hannah Ogundipe, a petty trader at Agege said, “Hospitals, doctors and nurses have too much wahala. I had taken my first son, only 6 to Ifako General hospital, I got a card for free and was asked to go to one session to wait for the nurse there to take my son’s temperature. The queue I met there was so discouraging but had no choice than to wait. Can you believe that I got to the hospital around past 8 am but didn’t leave until 3pm.”
Etah Idris, an office assistant at one of the online news platforms also spoke with us about why he takes to self-medication.
According to him, “I don’t need a doctor to tell me what is wrong with me because as soon as I fall sick, with the symptoms, I already know. I would just go to a pharmacy or a chemist and tell them what I need.”
So, for many of them, the financial implication, the stress of going to a hospital and the amount of time wasted are a few of the reasons they prefer to self medicate.
However, one never talked about reason why people self medicate is tradition. Many people grew up running to pharmacy to help their parents or elders buy one form of medicine or another without any doctor’s prescription. They, in turn, grow into adults that self medicate and breed children who will take after them.
There’s also this widespread notion that fever in infants is usually because of teething, therefore first-time moms and experienced moms, without recourse, administer paracetamol or other forms of drugs that ease fever to the child without seeing a doctor.
However, health practitioners insist that any form of fever is usually due to an infection or inflammatory process, so, parents should stop administering paracetamol until the child sees a doctor.
Medical Expert Reacts
Abosede Adetoyi, a registered nurse at the Ifako General Hospital says, “Nigerians should discontinue self-medication because the dangers are enormous: For instance, Co-Trimaxazole is a commonly abused antibiotics, used to treat cough and sore throat.
“However, there are patients who react negatively to this drug.
“There is a patient that took Ceptrin and reacted to it, which ended up making her deaf.
“She had to be flown to India for treatment. ”
“There are also people with conditions like ulcer, those people shouldn’t take certain drugs like Diclofenac because it stimulates ulcer pain.
“In this case, a trained pharmacist will prescribe Arthrotec, instead.
Things like body weight and body type are taken into consideration when a doctor or pharmacist prescribes drugs, but these things are thrown out of the window, in cases self-medication.
“There is also the case of addiction. When one begins to binge recklessly on drugs, they become so used it that it becomes something they take with or without ill health.
Some patients have abused sleeping pills so much that they can no longer sleep without it.
“There are those who have abused antibiotics so much that their bodies have grown resistant to them.
There is a thin line between self-medication, drug abuse and drug resistance.
Taking drugs without a doctor’s advice ends up being more expensive, masking the symptoms, prolonging the illness, and ineffective in the long run.