A young non-immunised boy contracts the diphtheria-causing corynebacterium. Instead of consulting a doctor, the family chooses self-medication — drugs obtained directly from a pharmacy by merely citing symptoms such as fever and sore throat.
His condition worsens by the time he is brought to the medical college hospital in Kozhikode, and he dies.
After this case, the message that diphtheria kills drove people to hospitals to undergo appropriate tests and treatment, says Reproductive and Child Health Officer Sarala Nair.
But, the situation has not changed in the case of diseases such as dengue or malaria, say health officials. The season of diseases is also the season of self-medication.
Indian Medical Association president A.V. Jayakrishnan says a dose of paracetamol is advised for fever caused by any common and mild infection. But, that is to be decided by the doctor and not by the patient or the pharmacist, he says.
Not a panacea
The biggest danger in self-medication is the assumption that an antibiotic can be a sure shot cure, even for viral infections. For viral infections, only anti-viral drugs are prescribed.
Only when there is a possibility or risk of secondary bacterial infection, the doctor prescribes an antibiotic.
But, this is to be decided only by a qualified physician, explains Dr. Jayakrishnan.
A person relying on self-medication opens himself to the risks of inappropriate medication.
Another dangerous practice of self-medication lies within the family. “There are instances where the prescription for one member is passed on to another in the family without consulting the doctor, simply because the symptoms are similar. The assumption that the infection is similar can prove dangerous,” he says. Pharmacies have to reject such outdated prescriptions.
The ill-informed common man going in for self-medication and the under-qualified pharmacy employee dispensing the drug form a potent combination for disaster.
Not all qualified
“Most persons employed at drug stores are not qualified pharmacists. They just apply one case and prescription to the others who turn up without any prescription. We have issued circulars periodically. We will appeal to the government to revamp the entire system of drug dispensing to ensure safety of patients,” says president of Kerala Private Pharmacists Association P. Praveen.
(Reporting by K.V. Prasad)