Lives at risk as pharmacists flout safety rules


A majority of sellers don't ask for prescription

Wednesday March 04 2020

Across all estates in Kenya, especially in slums, there is almost always a chemist opening up.

At the heart of Kibera, there are shops as far as the eye can see. For every 10 or so shops, there is a chemist. A man or woman in a lab coat is giving advice on the type of drugs that should be taken and with so much confidence you would think he/she is a doctor or pharmacist.

These men and women in lab coats sell drugs, without a subscription. They are entrusted with so many lives and because they do not charge a consultation fee, they are considered the convenient and cheaper option compared to hospitals.

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.

The HealthyNation walked into five of these shops without a subscription and not one refused to sell antibiotics, amoxicillin to be precise. Most of the pharmacies were not fully stocked with a majority selling antibiotics and cold and flu syrups for children.

One of the men in a lab coat asked what symptoms before advising on how to take the drugs, the rest did not bother.

This is the reality of most of Kenya’s pharmacies in a country where the number of registered professionals by the Pharmacy and Poisons Board is far less than that of retail outlets. Only 5,840 pharmacies were registered out of an estimated 15,000 outlets in the country.


It is not all gloom and doom with 60 pharmacies across the country taking the lead in smoking out fake drugs and quacks. A simple green cross sticker in front of the pharmacy is proving to be a game-changer in the industry that is putting the lives of many at risk.

Dr Daniella Munene, the Pharmaceutical Society of Kenya CEO, said when fully adopted, this mark of quality would ensure the safety of many Kenyans.

Green cross, she said, is used as a symbol of professional medical dispensaries globally and if all pharmacists in the country would adopt this it would help consumers distinguish between professionals and quacks.

“Without the outer mark of quality, it is easy to open up small shops and stock them with basic medicine and sell drugs that are counterfeit. The sign is visible from afar and it not only helps the patient in identifying a standard pharmacy, but also helps the regulator in keeping the market free from quacks,” she says.

Green cross, which is available to anyone licensed by the board, requires electronic documentation which makes it possible to query and monitor the trends. “Because it requires electronic documentation it would be easy to monitor everything. For example, if a patient is buying an antibiotic today and comes back seven days later for another in a different green cross pharmacy, he can be advised on another,” said she said.

The CEO said when the legitimate pharmacists display the Green cross it was a guarantee that they had a licence, proper premise conditions, the required medical equipment, lock-and-key storage facilities for expired or restricted drugs, a semi-private patient counselling area and qualified pharmacists and staff.