The Danger of Self-Medication

A lot of Nigerians prefer self-medication to treat their ailments instead of consulting doctor, but experts warn that that is a short road to death

By Vincent Nzemeke  |  Feb. 10, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT

ELIZABETH Okoye owns a cosmetic shop in Garki, Abuja. About four weeks ago when she complained about some pain in her lower abdomen, a friend of hers offered some drugs which she claimed was bought at a pharmacy shop in Abuja. After almost two weeks of taking the drugs without any improvements, Okoye visited a hospital and then realised that she could have killed herself through self medication. “I was taking the drugs but the pains persisted. When I could no longer bear it, I had to visit the hospital. The doctor ran a test and told me I had appendicitis. He added that if I had continued using the drugs, it could have ruptured and led to serious fatal complications,” Okoye said.

Williams Iloba’s case bears semblance to that of Okoyo. A student of the University of Lagos, Iloba had been treating a constant cough with some syrup he bought at a shop in Yaba for about two months.  When the pain became unbearable, he went to the university’s health centre where he was diagnosed and informed that he had tuberculosis. “I could not believe my ears when the doctors told me it was tuberculosis. I had taken different drugs without any improvements. Who knows what would have happened if I didn’t report at the health centre?” he asked rhetorically.

Helen Audu
Audu

The experiences of Okoye and Iloba are certainly not strange to many Nigerians because there are lots of people involved in the practice of self-medication. Regardless of their locations, social and economic status, the hospital is the last place to be visited when it comes to treating an ailment for a lot of Nigerians. They seek professional help only when every other effort has failed.

For instance, on the Abuja City service buses, there are usually marketers selling every sort of drugs. These marketers with their sugar-coated tongues are capable of misleading many passengers into a believing that a single drug can cure cold, fever, typhoid and every other kind of ailment.

About a week ago, when a Realnews reporter boarded one of the buses, a marketer came on board to advertise one of such drugs. According to him, the N100 drug “can be used to treat ulcer, headache, body pains and every other kind of illness.” The marketer sold no less than 20 packs of the drug in the bus that day.

Self-medication is a challenge that is not peculiar to Nigeria as it is practiced in virtually every part of the world. But it appears to have become a major challenge in Nigeria because whereas those in order countries still visit hospitals for check-up every now and then, many Nigerians rely solely on self-medication.  Besides that, it has also led to frequent cases of drug abuse which sometimes result in death and other complications.

Chidiebere Nwokike, a civil servant in Abuja, painted a vivid picture of the attitude of many Nigerians towards self-medication. He said he preferred to treat himself any time he felt uncomfortable and would only visit the hospital when the ailment was serious. “I rarely go to the hospital. As a matter of fact I have not been to any hospital in years. Anytime I have headache or feel uncomfortable, I treat myself because I know my body better than any doctor,” he said.

Just like Nwokike, Ebiware Gbaramatu, an accountant in a private firm in Abuja, also prefers self-medication to treatment in a hospital. She said because seeking treatment in a hospital could sometimes be very expensive, hence, she would want to apply self-medication and visit hospitals only when the situation got worse. “Anytime I feel sick, I prefer to treat myself first. If after treating myself and there is no improvement I can now visit a hospital. I can’t imagine visiting a hospital and paying them with my hard earned money just because I have headache or fever,” Gbaramatu said.

William Iloba
Iloba

According to experts, those who engage in self-medication are unknowingly doing a great damage to themselves because they will certainly spend more money when the ailment gets worse. Mike Egwu, a pharmacist at the Garki Hospital, Abuja, said that self-medication was a harmful practice which could damage the people’s health. “When a patient takes a particular line of drugs and it works, he will pass it to his sister or brother, even friends when they complain of similar symptoms, without the necessary prescription from a medical doctor, thereby endangering their health,” Egwu said.

The pharmacist’s position correlates with the experience of Okon Abasi, a civil servant, who developed peptic ulcer through self-medication. “I was taking aspirin for pains because I thought it was better than other pain killers, not knowing I was taking the wrong dosage. The pains persisted and a friend advised me to see a doctor. It was then I found out that I had been taking the wrong dosage. The doctor told me that a persistent use of drugs like aspirin  can be injurious; in fact, that was what led to my developing peptic ulcer,’’ Abasi said.

Egwu, however, said  that many people were unable to seek proper medical advice on their ailments because of financial constraints. “Lack of funds makes some people to resort to self-medication; that is why the government should speed up its plans for everyone to be on the health insurance scheme,” he said.

Kelvin Wombo, an Abuja-based community health worker, insisted that most people who indulge in self-medication were doing so in order to avoid the payment of consultation fees and other charges in hospitals and other health institutions. He added that one of the resultant effects of self-medication was that most patients often end up treating the ailment halfway because of improper dosage. “We don’t sell drugs to patients without the doctor’s prescriptions; that explains why the Pharmaceutical Council of Nigeria, PCN, insists on the use of professionals in dispensing drugs in all pharmacy outlets. The council also insists that anybody who wants to buy drugs must have a prescription; the pharmacist should not only dish out the prescribed drug but he or she should also explain how the person should take it,” Wombo said.

Abiodu Awolusi, a doctor at the National Hospital, Abuja, nonetheless, noted that many people had remained undaunted and somewhat indifferent to the campaign against self-medication.

Chidiebere Nwokike
Nwokike

But Jide Kolawole, a pharmacist, said that the use of drugs, which were not prescribed by doctors during pregnancy, were usually responsible for the deformity of some newborns. Kolawole advised pharmacists to refrain from selling drugs to patients without prescriptions, and called on the PCN to insist on the use of professionals in dispensing drugs in all pharmacy outlets. “The council should also insist that anybody who wants to buy drugs ought to have a prescription from a qualified health professional,’’ he said.

Aside from the PCN directive, some experts also suggest an enlightenment campaign to sensitise people on the dangers of self-medication as one way to stem the development. Kolawole urged government at all levels to embark on designed public sensitisation campaigns to sensitise the people on the dangers of self-medication. Helen Audu, a health worker, said: “All relevant authorities should also endeavour to embark on health education and public enlightenment campaigns so as to stem the menace of self-medication because of its adverse effects on the health of the citizenry.”