Many pharmacies in Vietnam have been found to be selling antibiotics to people without requiring prescriptions, according to a Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper investigation.
The probe was carried out in the context of the World Health Organization (WHO) conducting the first World Antibiotic Awareness Week, scheduled for November 16 to 22, with the aim of increasing awareness of global antibiotic resistance.
The event is also intended to encourage the best practice among the general public, health workers and policy makers to prevent the further emergence and spread of antibiotic resistance, the WHO said.
Meanwhile, multiple pharmacies in Ho Chi Minh City have easily sold Tuoi Tre correspondents antibiotics, without asking them to present doctor prescriptions.
Only days ago, at a pharmacy on Ky Dong Street, District 3, the Tuoi Tre reporters asked an attendant for medicine for a 5-year-old child without bringing along the necessary prescription.
The attendant’s reply was, “You simply tell me about the symptoms and I will sell medicine to you. No need to have a prescription.”
After hearing the symptoms, the attendant sold the reporters medicines of four kinds, including Cephalexin, an antibiotic, to take for one day as trial.
“If the patient’s condition is not improved, return here and we will provide you with a stronger kind of antibiotic,” she said.
At another pharmacy, about 30 meters away, after being briefed on the same symptoms, a staffer sold the reporters five kinds of medicine, also including Cephalexin, this time for five days.
Similarly, the Q.M. pharmacy in Tan Thoi Nhat Ward, District 12 sold the correspondents four kinds of medicine, including Sagafixim, another antibiotic, for use for five days, after listening to the same symptoms.
Meanwhile, another pharmacy in Tan Xuan Commune, Hoc Mon District supplied Tuoi Tre with the antibiotic Ceficim, amongst other medications.
The practice of selling medicines without prescriptions has also been evident in Hanoi as well as other provinces and cities throughout the country.
At a pharmacy on Ngoc Ha Street in the capital, a Tuoi Tre reporter was sold Roxinate, a kind of antibiotic, after telling the drugstore staff that he was suffering from a sore throat and fever.
91% of drugstores sell antibiotics without prescriptions
A survey of nearly 3,000 pharmacies in many rural and urban areas in northern Vietnamese provinces showed that 88-91 percent readily sold antibiotics to their customers without asking them to show prescriptions.
The findings were recently announced by Dr. Cao Hung Thai, deputy head of the health ministry’s Department for Medical Examination and Treatment Management.
According to the survey, antibiotics were sold by these drugstores to those who suffered coughing and fever, Dr. Thai said.
The abuse of antibiotics has contributed to the increase in antibiotic resistance, said Dr. Trinh Huu Tung, deputy director of Children’s Hospital 2 in Ho Chi Minh City, who complained that many pharmacies arbitrarily sell medicines, including antibiotics, to buyers.
Dr. Tran Anh, head of the Infection Control Department at the hospital, warned that antibiotic resistance has been recorded in many child patients.
Few drugstores fined
Selling medicines without prescriptions is one of the 13 acts that are banned under the Law on Pharmaceuticals, but it is difficult to keep an eye on all pharmacies nationwide, Dr. Thai said.
In addition, people’s ignorance or poor awareness of antibiotic resistance also contributes to the arbitrary use of antibiotics, the doctor said.
A fine of VND200,000-500,000 (US$8.9-22.2) is applied to the act of selling medicines not supported by doctor prescriptions, said Nguyen Viet Cuong, chief inspector of the Hanoi Department of Health.
However in reality, the number of drugstores having actually been fined for the practice is very small, Cuong admitted.
Luong Ngoc Khue, the chief of the health ministry’s Department for Medical Examination and Treatment Management, said there have been cases in which pharmacies were given hefty fines.
On the contrary, a survey conducted by Tuoi Tre showed that no cases of severe penalties have been given to drugstores for the violation over the past two years.