Cameroon being a 3rd world country means a greater proportion of its population still lives on/below the poverty margin. To this effect, some people are caught in the net of self-medication, which they consider a cheaper way to treating themselves once they get sick. The continuous reports given by health experts about the after effect of self-medication led The SUN to get an insight into this phenomenon. In this chat with The Director of the North West Regional Fund for Health Promotion (PIG), Dr. Richard Mbarika Fondoh, (a trained pharmacist) we get to understand the risk associated with self-medication. He spoke with The SUN’s Moma Sandrine.
The SUN: What is self-medication?
Dr Mbarika: Self-medication is simply when a patient prescribes for himself/herself medicines without a doctors permission. In most cases, a patient makes a guess on what he/she is suffering from and heads straight to a pharmacy to buy a drug without necessarily knowing if it corresponds to what he/she is suffering from.
Is it appropriate for a patient to engage in self-prescription, given the fact that he/she had taken a similar drug for the same infection?
Actually every patient should follow the doctor’s prescription and not do otherwise. If you have been diagnosed of say typhoid, you don’t just go ahead to take the same medication which had been administered to you in the past because, it could be a resistance strain of that infection, and may require a different prescription. Equally in such a case, the doctor may decide to change the dosage of the medicine and if you go ahead to self –prescribe a drug, the medication that treated you of typhoid in the past may not work this time around; as taking in the past is no guarantee that it will work in the future. Thus it is not acceptable for you to take the decision of self-prescribing because you do not have the technical know-how.
What about some common medications like ‘Paracetamol’ or ‘Efferelgan’, can’t these be taken without prescription?
Yes it is allowed. Those are medications we call in pharmacy ‘practice over the counter medications’. Paracetamol and Efferelgan are analgesics and can be taken for pains but if it persists for 2 or 3 days, it is advisable to see a doctor because the continuous intake of these analgesics can mask a disease.
Does self-medication pose any health threat?
Yes. A person who self prescribes might take the wrong medication and the illness he/she has might not be treated which may result in further complications. By this the patient will instead incur more expenses which he was trying to escape from.
Also, self-prescription can result to the patient taking either an over dosage or under dosage which can lead to future health complications. Taking an under dose of a medicine may cause a resistance to an illness, to the extent that when the right dose is administered, it might not treat the disease anymore because the microorganism has already understood the structure of medicine. In other cases, a patient who indulges in self-medication might take something toxic in the name of treating an ailment.
Being the head of the North West Regional Fund for Health Promotion, how appropriate is it for a patient to buy medicines from just anywhere?
I will say it is not appropriate because you need to be sure of the quality of the medicine that is, coming from the right manufacturer and stored under good conditions. Good sources of medications are the hospital pharmacies and the legal pharmacies in town. There are about 18 legal pharmacies in the North West region that are allowed to store and dispense medicines, and over 200 government facilities charged with this same task, not leaving out the private clinics whose pharmacies are equally recognized. It is thus advisable to get medications from a legalized source. Patients should desist from buying roadside medicines because the sources are not authentic and most of the vendors are not trained pharmacists.
What effort has the fund (PIG) put in place to ensure that patients get appropriate drugs?
The Fund represents the Ministry of Public Health and as such medicines are gotten only from authorised suppliers by the ministry. More than 60% of the medicines supplied by the fund are gotten from the government central supply pharmacy in Yaounde. The Fund also ensures that the medicines are stored under good conditions and transported in the same conditions till it gets to the pharmacies right down to rural areas. Also the Fund notifies government in cases of expired/contraband drugs.
What is your advice to patients who are subject to self-medication?
I will say it is not a healthy practice and they should cease from it. It can put their health at risk. Also patients should ensure that they buy medicines from authentic sources to stay safe. Self-prescription/medication is an ill that has to be eradicated from our society due to the numerous health hazards associated with it. To this effect, let’s be on the safe side by seeking medical advice once it’s needed.