Factors associated with self-medication in Lusaka, Zambia: a cross-sectional study of Chelston township

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Nkhoma, Luka
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The University of Zambia
Self-medication is treating self-diagnosed illnesses without the input of health professionals. Self-medication is a public health problem. The practice may lead to the development of drug resistant strains of micro-organisms, create difficulties for health professionals to evaluate the disease picture by masking the symptoms of diseases, lead to wrong dosages, increase side effects, and may deregulate policies which control drug usage. Although self-medication has disadvantages, the practice has some advantages. The practice improves health care delivery system by facilitating better use of clinical skills, reduces congestion in health facilities, saves time and money which would otherwise have been used for consultation. Self-medication can also save life especially in acute conditions. The study objectives were to investigate whether people self-medicate, to determine the reasons for self-medication, to establish the sources of drugs, and to establish whether age, sex, education, employment status, and income are associated with self-medication. The study was conducted in Chelston Township in Lusaka. This was a cross-sectional study design. Systematic sampling was used to select 422 participants from 6,395 households. Data was collected using structured interviewer administered questionnaires. SPSS version 16.0 was used to analyze data. All statistical tests were at 5% significance level. Logistic regression model was used to analyze the association between independent and dependent variables. The findings established that three thirds of the participants self-medicate. In addition, the findings showed that self-medication was high among females 211 (65.9%). The majority of the participants 94(22.3%) self-medicated because of previous experience of treating similar illnesses. The results showed that private drug stores were the main source of drugs 173 (41%). Analgesics were found to be the most commonly used medicines 132 (31.3%) while headache was the most commonly treated condition 137(32.5%). Being female (OR=2.05, CI =1.37-3.09, p<0.02) and being in employment (OR = 1.85, CI= 1.17-2.93, p<0.03) were the predictors of self-medication. Self-medication was high in the study area. Possible contributing factors are shortages of essential drugs in public clinics, understaffing, and long queues. Lack of enforcement of drug handling and vii dispensing policies in private pharmacies and ignorance among community members of the dangers of self-medication may also be contributing factors. Self-medication is a public health problem in the study area. The Ministry of Health should improve availability of drugs and other health services to deter people from seeking alternative sources of drugs. In addition, the Zambia Medicines Regulatory Authority should strengthen and enforce policies which control drug uses in Zambia. Further, the public needs to be educated on the dangers of self-medication. A larger study to assess the prevalence of self-medication in Zambia may be required.