In October last year, Angela Nduku took her three-year-old son to a public clinic in Kawangware. The boy had fever, which the nurse said was as a result of bacterial infection.
It turned out that the clinic did not have the antibiotics prescribed by the nurse. So, he recommended that Nduku should buy the drugs at a particular chemist. He even called to alert the owner of the chemist that he had just referred a client to buy medicines from his shop.
Like Nduku, thousands of Kenyans have one time or another been asked by doctors or nurses to purchase medicines either from specific manufacturers or chemists, without suspecting there could be vested interests.
This is, however, unethical. And it seems medical practitioners have been exploiting a legal loophole to serve their own selfish interests.
But this may soon come to an end following the launch of the first Code of Practice for the Pharmaceutical and Medical Devices Industry in Kenya by the Kenya Association of Pharmaceutical Industry (KAPI).
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The code, ratified by 27 KAPI members in consultation with global industry leaders and partners, outlines the principles and standards that will guide the practice of pharmaceutical organisations to enhance patient safety.
Health Cabinet Secretary Cleopa Mailu said there was no scrutiny on prescriptions made by doctors due to lack of rules to promote good and safe regulations of medical practice.
“The Ministry of Health is committed to benefiting patients by operating in a professional, ethical and transparent manner to ensure the appropriate use of medicines and support the provision of high quality healthcare,” he said.
Dr Mailu said the code of practice would help increase transparency and accountability. “Gone are the days when doctors wrote prescriptions in handwriting hard to understand. Patients today are well informed to query how scientific-proven the medicine given to them is,” he said.
KAPI Chairperson William Mwatu said patients need to know the reason a particular medicine is prescribed to them. “The prescription should be based on merits of the medicine with the latest information about it, but not how the doctor is going to benefit from the sale,” he said.
People like Nduku and others can now authoritatively seek explanation on why they are being referred to buy medicine from a particular pharmaceutical company or pharmacy.
“When you have a sick person, all you want is their immediate recovery. You might not have time for such inquiries for all you want is to help the sick,” she said.
The health sector has been flooded by generic drugs and sellers are scrambling for a share of the market, thus compromising ethical practices. The code states that all medical representatives must be duly registered or licensed by a health authority. They should at all times maintain a high standard of ethical conduct in discharging their duties.
John Wanyama, a member of KAPI and chair of KAPI’s compliance sub-committee, urged all stakeholders to embrace the code of practice to ensure better delivery of health and medical services.