Self-medicating is risky, medics warn

Friday March 27 2020

A man disinfects a matatu in in Eldoret town, Uasin Gishu County, as part of the efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus on March 23, 2020. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Health officials have warned Kenyans against self-medicating after demand for three critical drugs touted as treatment for the coronavirus surged in Nairobi.

Dr Daniella Munene, CEO of the Pharmaceutical Society of Kenya (PSK), said that hoarding of the drugs will lead to a severe shortage that will affect not only those likely to get infected by the virus, but also patients with pre-existing conditions.

She said the drugs — chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin — are sold only on prescription, yet Kenyans have managed to get hold of, and hoard them, putting the country in great danger.


“This behaviour is irresponsible and reckless in the face of a pandemic that has the potential to be the biggest challenge yet to our health system. Hoarding these essential medicines means that patients who depend on them to daily improve their quality of life, or those who might eventually get Covid-19, will be adversely affected by the shortage that will ensue,” she said.

She added that the public should be aware that possession of prescription only drugs without a valid prescription is illegal and can attract hefty fines and time in jail.


Ms Munene said using these medicines without expert advice is harmful, since their benefits and contraindications have not been considered depending on the gender, age, and pre-existing conditions to select the most appropriate dosage for a patient.

“Without the input of a healthcare professional, you are exposed to various risks from these medicine such as weakened immunity, thus increasing your risk of severe Covid-19 infection,” she said.

Azithromycin is an effective antibiotic when used as recommended by a healthcare expert, while hydroxychloroquine is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus and malaria. It can also be used for other purposes. Chloroquine is used in the management of malaria and amoebiasis.

Dr Munene said PSK has since warned pharmacies to observe the law and the PSK Code of Ethics in supplying the three drugs.

The society warned that pharmacies that flout the Law and those found contravening its code of ethics will face disciplinary action.

So far, Nigeria reported two cases of chloroquine poisoning after US President Donald Trump praised the drug as a treatment for the new coronavirus.

He wrote on Twitter that, “taken together”, hydroxychloroquine could be “one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine and urged they “be put in use IMMEDIATELY.”

He based his optimism mostly on a small study in Marseilles, France, which, combined with laboratory findings, has prompted ongoing trials in France and the US.

The just-released French study showed that treatment with hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin showed promising results, But the study was small and had other serious limitations.

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