Experts list how Nigerians endanger their lives patronizing non-prescription drugs
By HENRY OKONKWO
On a hot Thursday afternoon, a fully loaded commuter (coaster) bus took off from Oshodi, lunging into the Oshodi-Apapa expressway. It’s advertised destination, according to the hollering conductor, was Festac First-gate in Amuwo Odofin Local Government area. Approaching the Charity Bus stop, the next drop point after Oshodi, a lanky man of about 40 years sitting directly behind the drivers’ seat, stood up in the highly congested and stuffy vehicle and called the attention of the perspiring passengers. He introduced himself as Mr. Do-Good and informed his now roused audience that he was in the bus to give out gifts to all. Mr. Do-Good then brought out a pack of herbal balm from a cheap nylon bag he carried, reeled out numerous ailments ranging from headache, cough, flu to acute joint and muscular pains, with a boast that the said balm could cure all. For effect, he opened the small round container of balm, took a small pinch of the content with his fingers, rubbed it in his palms vigorously, and gave a single clap. In no time the pungent aromatic smell of menthol and eucalyptus oil whiffed and filled the entire bus. He announced that the balm cost N100.And within a jiffy, there was a clamour for the product from the passengers at the end of which, no fewer than 10 enthusiastically bought the ‘wonder’ balm!Encouraged by the success of his salesmanship genius, Mr. Do-Good went on to sell drugs like metronidazole (Flagyll) – prescription-only antibiotic, and other powerful painkillers. This is just another typical scene in commercial vehicles on various routes within the metropolis. Buying medications for their health needs in Molue or Danfo buses has become a popular pastime of many Lagosians. According to the buyers they opt to patronize drug hawkers like Mr. Do-Good from time to time to treat ‘common’ illnesses like malaria, stomach upset and general body pains because it saves them time, effort and money going in search of doctors and drug stores, as these drug hawkers are common sight and easily available in commercial buses. The hawkers, who often chose long distance routes like Agege – Iyana-Ipaja, or Oshodi – Mile 2 in order to highlight the qualities of their wares, hawked different kinds of drugs including cough syrups, killers, herbal purgatives, unregistered and crudely packaged dental powder, balm, ear and eye drops.But sale of these dubious medications spawn the public space. The hawkers are also to be seen plying their trade by the roadsides of Lagos, Abuja, Kano, down to Enugu and Port Harcourt. Many set up makeshift roadside ‘clinics’ where they lure passers-by to come in and do ‘general body check-up’.
Many unwary Nigerians have fallen, and more are still falling into the traps of these unregistered roadside ‘doctors’ and ‘pharmacists’.
A hawker, who sells medicine at Maza-Maza in Lagos and gave his name as Mr. Matthew, confirmed that street-side sale of drugs was a lucrative business. Matthew, listed medicines especially for relieving pain, malaria and typhoid to be in high demand, explaining that, that was why many people were venturing into the trade.
He further attributed the loss of confidence in the country’s health system as one of the major factors causing people to resort to self-medication. “People get sick every day, and most of them say there are no medicines in clinics,” notes Matthew, adding: “Also people seek for way to prevent being sick, so they still buy some of our medicines to keep in their homes in case of emergency.”
But, medical experts warn of grave dangers in buying and taking such drugs, without doctor’s prescription and from certified pharmaceutical outlets.
Dr. Moses Oduola of Fountain Health Centre, said taking drugs that were not prescribed or from untrained people could be fatal. It can lead to death, because one may not know the authenticity of the drug they are taking, he said. “Even the dosage may be wrong,” he noted, calling for appropriate legislation and enforcement to curb the trend.
His words: “Right now, anyone can go to the streets and put up some leaves and claim they are traditional medicines. But if we have an Act in place, everyone selling traditional medicines will have to be licensed, with the medicines properly researched for efficacy.”
The open sale of drugs—both traditional and pharmaceutical via unregistered outlets is a major concern in Nigeria. Many argue that these informal drug markets flourish because of many challenges inherent in Nigeria’s health sector.
Mr. Elijah Mohammed, Registrar of the Council of the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN) vowed to eradicate open drug hawking by Aug. 1, this year.
“Drugs are supposed to be stored properly in a cool, dry place”, says a pharmacist, Mrs. Chinwe Nwaneke. “It is an eyesore when you see the way drugs are sold in the markets and exposed openly as if they are common merchandise like clothes and cosmetics. This shows that these sellers’ lack of proper understanding of the delicate nature of these drugs and how they should be handled. The practice of selling drugs in the open market adversely affects the quality and the general efficacy of drugs. Exposing the drugs to extreme temperature makes them expire early. Also unregulated sale of drugs gives room to counterfeiters to market their dangerous products to an unsuspecting public. It is illegal to sell drugs on the roadside, and as a pharmacist, I won’t advise anyone to patronize drug hawkers on the streets.”
Another pharmacist, Mr. Kevin Obua, said that although people need easy access to medicines at affordable prices, they should apply caution and consult medical experts for their own good. “Many Nigerians want to have a shortcut in getting medicines, but that shortcut is dangerous to them. It is a sad tale. Nigerians who patronise quack chemists and drug hawkers must realise that they are endangering their health. Drugs can kill and heal. Sadly, various researches done by clinical pharmacists have shown that self-prescription is one of the commonest forms of drug abuse in the country.”
Obua says with the trend, the pharmacy laws that prohibit the location of pharmaceutical premises in motor parks, market places including kiosks and road-side stores or any environment where commercial activities and enterprises go on, are being flouted with impunity. “The Human Development Index (HDI) 2013 document attributes about 15 per cent of deaths in Nigeria to wrongly prescribed medications and expired drugs. This shows why Nigerians must be careful, and shun patronizing roadside drug seller.
“The Federal Government must endeavour to adhere to the August date to stop the criminal sales of prescription drugs by the roadside. Also Nigerians need to buy genuine drugs from only duly registered pharmaceutical outlets or patent medicine vendors’ licensed shops,” he advises.