Have queries about drugs? Contact drug information centreExperts say the Health Ministry and other professional organisations should have provided such services long ago.
A few days ago, a man from Itahari in Sunsari called the hotline number of the drug information centre run by the Public Health Concern Trust-Nepal, a non-governmental organisation working in the health care sector.
The man was worried about the health condition of his mother, who is 90 and had been suffering from frequent bowel movements.
He complained that the medicines a doctor gave to his mother did not work, according to Sarmila Shrestha, a pharmacist supervisor at the centre.
“We suggested that he let his mother complete the course of medicine and consult a doctor for additional digestive enzymes,” Shrestha said. “We also recommended an ultrasound test to check if any infection is responsible for her frequent bowel movements.”
The centre, which was started a year ago to provide information on medicines to health care workers, receives such calls from the general public on a regular basis, as many are unaware of the medicines prescribed to them. The frequency of such calls has been growing of late, according to the centre.
Officials said that many people having health problems, their own or their relatives’, seek help from the centre on drug-related problems from across the country.
A few months ago, a woman in her late 50s inquired if she could stop taking medicine for low blood pressure, a condition she suffered from as she was mourning some relative’s death and stopped consuming salt.
Health workers advised the woman to monitor her blood pressure level for two more days and check if it has declined constantly or not.
“We asked her not to stop the medicine if blood pressure is still fluctuating,” Shrestha said. “We told her that if the blood pressure level is low, she can stop the medicine until she resumes consuming salt.”
Another woman from Kathmandu called at midnight about a month ago as she was worried about the health condition of her five-year-old son, who had been suffering from high fever.
The woman complained that the fever of her son did not subside even after taking paracetamol. Pharmacists at the centre inquired about the boy’s weight, the doses of paracetamol given to him and asked her to increase the dose.
“Doctors too contact us to know about the availability of medicines, and about drug reactions,” said Preeti Dongol, a member secretary at the centre.
Health workers serving at the centre said that they do not recommend medicines but only provide information about the drugs, and advise required dosage and address other queries of the patients and their relatives.
Doctors say that drug information centres are needed not only for patients but also for health workers, including doctors.
But a service of this kind should have been provided a long time ago by the Health Ministry, and professional organisations such as the Nepal Pharmacy Council, Nepal Medical Council and Nepal Medical Association, said Dr Sagar Rajbhandari, former director at the Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital.
“Thousands of people benefit from this kind of service and for those agencies, it would not be a big deal to provide such service to the public,” Rajbhandari said.
In a country like Nepal where most of the medical practitioners do not bother to explain about the medicines they prescribe and their purpose to the patients, such information centres can be quite helpful, experts say.
Most of the people by and large do not know about the medicines they are prescribed and at times there is confusion about the doses. Patients wholly depend on the pharmacy attendants for advice on dosage, and sometimes they might not provide the right information.
Some patients often stop taking drugs including antibiotics without completing the full course, which could raise the risk of drug resistance.
“Providing the right information about the medicines helps to prevent the haphazard use of medicines,” said Dr Bhagwan Koirala, chairman of the Nepal Medical Council. “This type of service is needed in the country.”
The drug information centre is not the first to provide such service in the country. The Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital too had set up a Drug Information Unit in the past but many people do not know about it.
“When the government does not fulfill its duties, other actors enter to fill the void,” said Koirala. “The Health Ministry, the Department of Drug Administration, or other professional councils could have provided the service. ”
Experts say that even if providing information regarding the drug is not in the interest of the authorities concerned, they should monitor what kind of information is being provided to patients, and how helpful and detailed the information is.
“Neither the government nor other professional organisations are concerned about the problems faced by the people when it comes to health care,” said Mrigendra Meher Shrestha, president of the Nepal Chemist and Druggists Association. “We too [the association] could have provided this type of service. Many people will benefit from this service.”
Officials at the drug information centre said that they want more people who need information regarding medicines to contact them.
Hotlines of the centre: