Teenage girls in Kwale County are being sold birth control drugs of unknown quality, a study by the World Health Organisation shows.
The study says that untrained pharmacy attendants are also illegally injecting their clients with the drugs.
While national guidelines allow private pharmacies to stock and sell injectable contraceptives, the injections should be administered by a medic in a healthcare facility.
“Participants confirmed that injectable contraceptives were routinely sold and administered in pharmacies. Youth who reported purchasing an injectable contraceptive indicated that they had also been injected at the pharmacy,” says the study.
The report that was published on December 19 involved 60 pharmacies, representatives from NGOs and inspectors from the Pharmacy and Poisons Board (PPB).
It was also revealed that the practice is not limited to Kwale but is a widespread problem across the country.
A PPB official said the Coast region was faced with serious drug quality problems occasioned largely by unchecked smuggling from a neighbouring country.
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“We have had problems with drugs coming from Tanzania through unofficial routes – in buses and suitcases. Either they are counterfeit or falsified products, especially Postinor-2 (an emergency contraceptive pill). We have received so many complaints,” said the official.
The study involving the Department of Reproductive Health and Research at the World Health Organisation (WHO), Geneva; University of Basel, Switzerland; University of Nairobi, and Ghent University, Belgium appears in the journal Plos One.
The team used an anonymous client, called 'mystery shopper' in its research. The client visited 45 of the study pharmacies in Kwale and Ukunda.
“In 44 per cent of the visited pharmacies, the mystery shopper was told she could both purchase and receive the injection on site,” says the study that was led by Lianne Gonsalves of the WHO.
Local pharmacy personnel revealed that injections were administered by pharmacists, pharmaceutical technicians and untrained pharmacy workers.
The study also established that 40 out of the 45 visited pharmacies were not appropriately registered.
Young study participants said they were aware that among the private pharmacies in Kwale, there were unregistered establishments with unqualified personnel dispensing poor-quality commodities.
“Those who sell drugs in local pharmacies are not people who are qualified. Most of them are people from school and have been told to go and help. They will even sell wrong dosages,” said a youth community leader.
PPB representatives said they were aware of the problem of illegal pharmacies and circulation of substandard products but were unable to stop the practices.
“The illegal pharmacies have these social media networks. A person will just text and say that ‘PPB, their vehicle was seen somewhere in Kwale’ and they close down,” said an inspector
Despite the board developing a much publicised SMS-based pharmacy verification system, the regulators said it had largely been a failure.
The system was supposed to help clients verify the authenticity of a pharmacy outlet, but according to a PPB regulator in the study, this had not stopped illegal outlets from operating.
A board member of the Pharmaceutical Society of Kenya said the situation was worsened by qualified health professionals who rent out their licenses to quacks to use in setting up pharmacies.