Real world pharmacy: assessing the quality of private pharmacy practice in the Lao People's Democratic Republic

B Stenson, L Syhakhang, B Eriksson, G Tomson
Social Science & Medicine 2001, 52 (3): 393-404
The private sector is a dominant actor in the provision of pharmaceuticals, particularly in developing countries. Private provision of drugs has been associated with risks regarding availability, affordability, rational use and drug quality. Ensuring an effective regulatory framework is therefore a major challenge for governments, yet the capacity of regulatory authorities is often outstripped by private sector growth. In the Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao P.D.R.), a poor, landlocked country in South East Asia, the private provision of drugs has increased dramatically since the liberalisation of the economy in the late 1980s. This paper aims to describe the quality of the private pharmacy services in the Savannakhet province of Lao P.D.R. In order to do this, a monitoring instrument which serves to make the concept of Good Pharmacy Practice (GPP) operational was developed and applied to a sample of pharmacies. Service quality, as measured by three facility-specific indicators, showed a tendency to be lower in the most distant districts. Poor dispensing practices were manifest by a lack of information about drugs sold in 59% of cases, drugs not being labelled in 47% and different drugs being mixed in the same package in 26% of cases. The prices of four sample drugs were slightly higher in the remote districts. A 10-fold price difference for the same drug was recorded in one district. After reporting the findings, the paper discusses the possible influence of district and pharmacy variables on the quality of services, and goes on to discuss the price differences. It is concluded that further government interventions are needed in order to improve the quality of services and to focus regulatory action on a limited number of aspects, to ensure that drugs can be traced before trying to establish a comprehensive regulatory system.

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