When you have a bout of diarrhoea or a rash or simple stomach upset, the first thing a Nigerian will advise you to do is to get an antibiotic or herbal decoction (agbo) depending on their level of education/sophistication. They would even recommend their favourite brand without a second thought or a brand they feel is very effective.
If you tell the average Nigerian that he/she requires a doctor’s prescription before getting even ‘FLAGYL’, they’ll look at you like you have sprouted an extra head. What if I told you that you require a doctor’s prescription before you can get an antimalarial drug, any antimalarial at all, I’m serious. Even certain analgesics (pain relieving drugs) require a doctor’s signed prescription and the same applies to many other medications you can get under Lagos bridges in basins carried by middle aged women. Drugs that fall under that category are known as Prescription Only Medicines (POM), the drugs you can get without a prescription are known as Over The Counter medicines (OTC).
Why isn’t the rule isn’t enforced here, there are many reasons ranging from time spent waiting to see a doctor (if you have to go use a government hospital, you might have to schedule the whole day for the trip), cost implication and sometimes just a general mistrust of doctors- the anti-physician sentiment in Nigeria is pretty high for myriad reasons which are beyond the scope of this post.
Sadly any pharmacy that decides to enforce the prescription before dispensing POM drugs in Nigeria will close down in three months, nobody would go there anymore. Unfortunately we do not realise that seeing a doctor, getting tested to know the exact organism causing the infection (even in malaria cases, it is best to know the exact plasmodium strain/species that’s causing the fever) and know what medication is most effective against it (culture and sensitivity testing). Before you tell me poverty is an excuse, I’ve seen many people who can afford a thousand tests shrug off the idea of at least getting tested. “Give me the drugs” is their refrain.
We even take that mentality when we leave Nigeria, people who shuttle between Nigeria and “the abroad” often; will always stock up on antibiotics before they travel. I worked in a pharmacy owned by a woman who lives in the United States and her friends would patronise us and load up on antibiotics and analgesics before they travel, they’d tell you how getting those drugs abroad was harder than swimming the English channel and it didn’t even matter how much you were willing to part with.
There’s so much to talk about on this topic and I just realised that one post will not be enough, I’ll do a follow up to this very soon.
PS; Many thanks to Obianuju for providing the ginger to reactivate this series.