Want a genuine pharmacy? Look out for Green Cross
By DR Louis Machogu
Somewhere in our make-up, there is a thread not too impressed with laws. If our friend’s mother runs a village pharmacy, licensing it is something we may agree is excessively onerous.
We may find ourselves hostile to the Pharmacy and Poisons Board (PPB) and see our Mama Duka as persecuted and interfered with in her noble mission of serving us.
Except for the small fact that our Mama’s store is filled with lethal drugs. Give us the wrong dose and our child may sustain kidney damage that never even shows until the day she dies at the age of 32, paying the price for medicines sold by a quack.
According to the 2013 Kenya Household Health Expenditure Survey, one in 10 Kenyans would rather consult a pharmacist than go to hospital, and almost a third buy medication over the counter without a prescription.
Combining some medicine can be deadly. Statins, for instance, are common drugs prescribed to lower cholesterol and reduce chances of strokes and heart attacks. On their own, these drugs are safe. But combine some of them with the antibiotic Erythromycin, which is used commonly to treat chest infections, and the result can be permanent liver damage. Are we confident Mama Duka knows that, and all about safe medication?
By contrast, pharmacists are doctors, which acts as a protection against misdiagnosis and incorrect prescriptions. If you have typhoid, but think it is malaria, and get an anti-malarial, you won’t get better — and you may die.
Qualified pharmacists know what medications look like and can spot fake drugs. According to WHO, 274 Africans die every day as a result of fake medicines.
An estimated 30 per cent of medicines sold in Kenya are fake. Critically, many medicines for chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension are dispensed without the active ingredients, making the patient’s condition worse.
Moreover, Mama Duka can get those counterfeit medicines much more cheaply than the genuine drugs. If we all understood the risk she was taking with our children’s lives, we might be a lot more offended by an unregistered pharmacy and supportive of the PPB in its task of eradicating illicit chemists.
Indeed, since 2016, the board, together with the police, have been carrying out a countrywide crackdown on unlicensed drug outlets. By 2018, 994 illegal outlets had been closed down, with Nairobi topping the list with 105 closed. Last year, 110 pharmacies were closed down in Nyeri, Murang’a, Kiambu, Kirinyaga, Nyandarua and Embu, 71 in Mombasa and 80 in Nairobi.
But getting rid of the quacks has become a contest — for every two illegal outlets that are shut down, four surface.
The introduction of the PPB’s health safety code, 21031, that lists the registration details of legitimate pharmacists and their location has been a game-changer in weeding out illegal chemists.
However, with only 5,840 pharmacies registered of an estimated 15,000 outlets, distinguishing legitimate pharmacies is still a challenge for consumers, which is why we have launched the Green Cross symbol and signage as the mark of qualified pharmacists.
The Green Cross has been used as a symbol of professional medical dispensaries globally. It’s our belief that even as the PPB works to close down illegal pharmacies, such signposting can assist consumers distinguish between professionals and quacks.
Indeed, the Green Cross can serve to encourage investment in legitimate pharmacies, drawing unemployed pharmacists, instead of allowing quacks to dispense potentially dangerous medicines.
Legitimate pharmacists can display the Green Cross as a guarantee that they have a license, proper premise conditions, the required medical equipment, lock-and-key storage facilities for expired/restricted drugs, a semi-private patient counseling area and qualified pharmacists and staff.
The public needs the critical information that can prevent them killing their own kin with illegal drugs from illegal pharmacies.
— The writer is the President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Kenya