The high cost of seeking medication in both private and public hospitals often pushes Kenyans into seeking solace in over-the-counter medications.
Self-medication is on the rise in Kenya and experts are warning of a crisis if the government will not step in to salvage the situation.
Currently, the majority of Kenyans are imagining what is ailing them and deciding the type of medicine they buy from pharmacies and shops.
Millions of Kenyans are relying on drug stores (chemists) to determine to them the kind of drug they need without carrying out any necessary tests.
There is no chemist in Kenya who will tell you, “we don’t have that kind of drug,” they will say, “we don’t have that kind of drug but we have another one that works just as the same.”
Given that there are more than 3,000 illegal chemists in Nairobi alone, chances are Kenyans are being sold drugs with people who have no clue of what the medication is all about.
Kenyans see it as cheaper to buy medicines for themselves as compared to going to a health facility, pay a consultation fee, pay for tests then being prescribed medicine that one would have just bought by themselves.
Drugs sold by health facilities are often more expensive compared to the same drug being sold in private chemists something that is pushing many Kenyans towards them.
“The sick sector is the most profitable in the country. You can sell a Kenyan anything, disguised as medicine from your shop and they will buy and consume it,” said one chemist we interviewed.
Here are some of the most abused over-the-counter drugs in Kenya:
Painkillers are the most abused over-the-counter drugs in Kenya. Whenever a Kenyan feels any form of pain, the first thing they would rush for is a painkiller.
There are various types of painkillers found both in drug stores and shops and all of them need no prescription from a doctor.
Some of the most abused painkillers are:
Most of the drugs mentioned above are sold in shops and canteens.
Antibiotics are also among the most abused over-the-counter drugs in Kenya. The two most used are Amoxil and Ambiclocks.
Chemists often sell antibiotics to customers who complain of chest pains, difficulty in breathing and those with minor injuries.
They are also sold to patients who show symptoms of pneumonia-like pain in the chest while breathing.
These pills are mostly known as P2. They are pills taken by a lady who has had unprotected sex to prevent them from becoming pregnant. The pills are said to work if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex.
According to a chemist that we spoke to, P2 is the most-sold drug in her drug store. “They sell like hotcake,” she says.
According to her, the majority of those consuming P2 are students who engage in unprotected sex but want to protect themselves against pregnancies.
If you thought it is ladies who buy P2s from drug stores, well, you are mistaken. Many ladies fear to go to ask for the P2 and those who buy them for them are men (their boyfriends).
“Out of 100 people who buy the pills, 90+ of them are usually men,” she says.
According to the chemist, the huge demand for P2 pills has led to an influx of counterfeits in Kenya. Most of the P2 drugs that are in drug stores are counterfeits.
P2 drugs are not supposed to be taken regularly. For instance, for some of them, one is not supposed to take more than 4 within the same month.
Abortion is illegal in Kenya. It is only permitted in the event that the life of the mother is in danger. In rare cases, it is permitted in the case of rape and where the mother doesn’t want to keep the baby.
Despite the fact that abortion is illegal, many drugs that facilitate the same are still found over-the-counter in many drug stores.
The most commonly used abortion drug is misoprostol that goes for 500 shillings in many drug stores with some selling them at 3,000 shillings.
Some established chemists would ask for a letter from a doctor before selling the drug but for those who want quick money, often sell it at about 5 times the price without the letter.
Kenyans in most parts of the country where malaria is a common disease, often treat every symptom as malaria.
The most common drug used to treat malaria is AL that goes for between 50 to 250 shillings depending on the type of drug store that one goes in.
Nairobi is free from Malaria but the drug stores are full of malaria treatment drugs because there are people who buy them even after having not traveled outside the city prior to the symptoms.
Ever heard of Mwarobaini (Neem tree)? In the villages, it is believed that it treats over 40 diseases and therefore, people often take it whenever they feel anything.
What about Aloevera? It is also said to treat various ailments and most Kenyans often boil its leaves (stems) to drink.
Most traditional medicines in the rural areas (Nairobi too) are consumed without really knowing the medicinal value in them and the kind of illness being treated.