Editor's Comment

Culture of self-harm must stop

THE dangerous habit of self-prescription is deep rooted in Zambia like in other countries across the globe.
It is common for people who develop supposedly minor illnesses or any medical symptoms to just walk into a pharmacy and buy drugs off the counter, to treat themselves without the doctor’s prescription.
Some people are ignorant of the dangers of self-prescription while others feel lazy to go to the hospital and queue up. Others are simply busy and feel the process of going through tests at the clinic or hospital is not worth it.
Others may have been discouraged by the fact that the last time they visited a health facility, the doctor prescribed medicines out of a mere interview instead of medical tests.
Others have also found themselves in the habit of self-prescription because a relative or friend out of experience recommended the use of a certain drug to treat an illness or symptom and it yielded positive results.
Given that buying drugs off the counter provides a seemingly convenient and quick way to relief, some people consider going to the clinic or hospital a sheer waste of time.
This is the precarious conviction that has put many lives at risk.
While in some instances many people seem to have gotten away with self-prescription, the risk of abusing and misusing medications can be devastating.
Some people are in the habit of taking paracetamol at any slightest headache. What is not known to such individuals is that taking pain killers for a long time or in large doses can cause liver problems.
This is where doctors come in relevant to give informed guidance through tests as and when to take such drugs.
Medical research has also established that the overuse and misuse of drugs over a period of time leads to the emergence of resistance in microorganisms in the human body.
For instance, the micro-organisms cause a person to become resistant to antibiotics.
Such resistance is what contributed to the phasing out of drugs like chloroquine in the treatment of malaria.
Irrational use of drugs can also cause other adverse reactions such as temporary masking which delays diagnosis thereby putting the life of a patient at risk.
There are also instances when drugs are banned for one reason or the other, doctors as medical practitioners are better placed to be up to date with such information.
In such cases people who go through the hospital for prescription will reduce the risk of buying such harmful drugs.
While self-prescription of drugs may seem to only affect individuals in actual fact, the impact extends to national level.
For instance, when more people develop resistance to a drug, money is lost through already procured drugs which can no longer be used.
The government is also forced to find money to procure more effective and expensive drugs.
In cases where more people misuse or over use drugs, they end up in health facilities putting a strain on healthcare and government coffers
It is against this background that advice given by Copperbelt deputy permanent secretary Joyce Nsamba against self-prescription of antibiotics should be taken seriously.
This is because it is a matter of life and death as well as an impediment to development.
Mrs Nsamba noted that the increase in antimicrobial resistance being experienced in Zambia is as a result of self-prescription of drugs.
During the National Biomedical Laboratory Professionals’ week recently, Mrs Nsamba said self-prescription endangers the lives of people because they are ignorant of the underlying causes of their problem.
Mrs Nsamba also noted, and rightly so, that the trend is costly as it implies additional tests, use of more expensive drugs and prolonging patients’ suffering.
Given the seemingly silent and yet devastating effects of this trend, the need to find a lasting solution cannot be overemphasised.
The starting point is for the Medicines Regulatory Authority and other health stakeholders to embark on a sensitisation campaign against self-prescription of medicines.
People need to be made aware that through self-prescription they are killing themselves slowly.
Medicines Regulatory Authority should also be proactive in enforcing law that prohibits purchase of medicines without prescription from doctors.
Those found prioritising money-making at the expense of people’s lives must certainly face the wrath of the law.

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