A new research has raised the red flag over the abuse of “prescription only” drugs which customers are now routinely allowed to buy over the counter.
According to findings by Synovate, the market research group, more than 70 per cent of the 203 sampled pharmacies in Kenya’s eight provinces did not ask for a prescription before dispensing the drugs as required by law.
Only nine per cent of the pharmacies asked for prescriptions and 18 per cent declined to sell the drugs after the prescription was presented.
Drugs are categorised as prescription-only, over -the counter (OTC) and general sale drugs.
The prescription-only are those which have adverse effects if wrongly used while OTC medicines and those intended for general sale like pain killers have a lesser effect in case of overdosage.
The prescription-only include antibiotics, antihypertension, antidiabetes and antiepileptic among other medicines and according to the study; antibiotics were the most abused as compared to other drugs in the category.
Doctors say the misuse of these drugs is contributing to rise in new strains of bacterial infections that are now common in Kenya and leading to resistance when patients start treatment.
Experts say the drug resistance is costing Kenya millions in shillings as the government has to source for alternative drugs after the first line drugs have failed.
For example, cases of multidrug resistance Tuberculosis (TB) have been on the rise in Kenya calling for more costs of treatment as such conditions require expensive drugs.
While Kenya has in average 130,000 new cases of TB, those classified as multidrug-resistant rose to 552 last year with only 170 of these being on government-funded medication programme.
Treating TB costs as low as Sh1,600 ($20) for a period of six months, but for multidrug resistant TB the treatment cost rises to as high as Sh1.6 million ($20,000) for two years.
The high doctors fees has pushed many Kenyans to self-medicate themselves.
“Consultation fees are a turn-off to many Kenyans seeking health care. They have turned to self-medication as a way of cutting costs of healthcare,” said Jayesh Pandit, head of Pharmacovigilance department at the Pharmacy and Poisons Board.
But even as the public is to blame for drug abuse, professionals in the industry too have failed to carry out their obligations.
Pharmacists are in a blame game over the slow drafting and implementation of rules governing sale of medicines.
The Pharmacy and Poisons Board that is charged with policy implementation says the office of the chief pharmacist has failed to draft watertight regulations.
“Issues of policy come before the law and we have a law in place that governs the sale of different classes of medicine,” said Kipkerich Kosgey, chief government pharmacist in response to the allegation.
The Pharmaceutical Society of Kenya feels that enough has not been done to curb quacks from setting up pharmacies and dispensing medicines using unlawful procedures.
“As a country we face a big challenge regarding sale of medicine. We have a large number of quacks opening pharmacies and when mistakes are committed all pharmacists are blamed,” said Dominic Karanja who chairs the Pharmaceutical Society of Kenya.
Attempts to get the actual number of pharmacies that have been apprehended by the Poisons board failed as the head of the inspectorate department was said to be out of office.
But questions over the effectiveness of the current penalties charged to pharmacists who do not follow the legal requirements continue to rise.
Health experts say the existing punitive measures are not effective in dealing with malpractice in the pharmaceutical sector and call for stiffer penalties as a way of putting at bay unscrupulous medical practitioners.
The current penalties range from as low as Sh10,000 to Sh100,00 with possibilities of revoking a license if the court rules so.
The local health care system has had to adopt the use of generic drugs that are less costly as compared to branded medicines to enable majority Kenyans to afford medication.
But even with this undertaking, there have been rising cases of drug abuse and counterfeit drug sales which have further complicated the situation.
A past country report on Kenya by the World Health Organisation indicated that about 30 per cent of drugs being sold in Kenya are counterfeit.
Sale of counterfeit pharmaceutical products was held accountable for more than $130 million of the annual pharmaceutical industry sales in Kenya.
These figures could be on the rise as responsibilities are thrown between relevant authorities in the sector.
In a recent Kenya Pharmaceuticals and Healthcare report, Kenya is ranked in the 18th place just above Zimbabwe.