Self-medication proving fatal for Covid-19 patients, health experts sayPeople are buying self-prescribed medicines based on information shared on social media platforms.
It had been two weeks since a 56-year-old man from Butwal-3 in Rupandehi district was suffering from common cold, fever and body aches. He consulted a local pharmacy and took medicines for a couple of days but his health did not improve.
A couple of days later, he got his swab sample tested for Covid-19 infection. He tested positive and chose to stay in home isolation, his family members say. But on May 15, his health condition worsened and his family rushed him to the Corona Hospital in Butwal.
The critically ailing man was admitted to the High Dependency Unit at the hospital. “He was shifted to the Intensive Care Unit the next day but we could not save him,” said one of his family members. The patient died the same day.
Another infected man, aged 58, from Siddharthanagar-6, Rupandehi, also suffered from similar health problems. He had been suffering from fever and cough since May 3, so he visited a local pharmacy and bought antibiotics upon suggestion from the pharmacist.
“But I didn’t get any better. I went for a PCR test and the result showed I was Covid-19 positive,” said the man.
“I took medical oxygen for days at home as my oxygen saturation was low. But it was not enough. I went to Bhim Hospital after I couldn’t breathe properly,” said the man.
He received treatment lying on a mattress on the hospital floor since all the beds at the Covid-19 unit of the hospital were occupied. “I returned home after my oxygen level crossed 92.”
According to Dr Sudarshan Thapa, senior consultant of Lumbini Provincial Hospital, Covid-19 patients choosing to self-medicate or relying on local pharmacies for treatment over visiting a hospital is proving fatal for them. In the past year, multiple reports have surfaced of people buying self-prescribed medicines relying on information shared on social media platforms and messaging apps.
Thapa, who has been involved in the treatment of Covid-19 patients for the past one year, says most people are taking antibiotics for illnesses with Covid-19-related symptoms.
“Around 70 percent of Covid-19 patients visit hospitals only after their self-medication fails to cure them. They purchase medicines for fever and common cold from the medical stores,” he said. “It is wrong to treat Covid-19 as typhoid, flu or other bacterial diseases.”
“Wrong medicines may lead to bacterial infection and make the patients more sick,” said Thapa. “One should visit a hospital if one develops fever, cough, body ache, common cold or any other health-related problems.”
A woman from Rainadevi Chhahara Rural Municipality-4 in Palpa district recently visited a local pharmacy, where she bought paracetamol, zinc tablets, vitamin C and vitamin D. She did not have a doctor's prescription. “The prescription shared on social media recommended these medicines and vitamin tablets for those who show symptoms similar to that of the coronavirus,” she said.
Nanda Kishor Badhai, aged 34, of Kapilvastu-4 had all the symptoms of Covid-19 but did not want to undergo a PCR test. He bought medicines from a local pharmacy but his health worsened on the fifth day of suffering from fever and cold. He was taken to Taulihawa Hospital on Monday evening. He passed away the next morning.
Similar incident took place at Shivaraj Municipality-5, Kapilvastu. A 48-year-old man took medicines for fever and sore throat for a week but his health did not improve. On Sunday, he was rushed to Shivaraj Basic Hospital after his condition worsened.
“His oxygen level was just 42 when he was taken to the hospital. He passed away on Monday,” said Chudamani Bhattarai, the health unit chief of Shivaraj Municipality.
According to Dr Subhash Pandeya, medical superintendent of the District Hospital in Bardiya, the rate of Covid-19-related deaths has increased as patients have been taking medicines without consulting a doctor.
“Most of the patients do not visit health facilities for treatment. They only visit hospitals if they face breathing problems,” said Umesh Gupta, the health coordinator of Kapilvastu Municipality. “This is also why Covid-19-related deaths are on the rise.”
“Most are in denial of having contracted Covid-19. They want to put off treatment as long as possible because they don’t want to accept that they have been infected, fearing worst-case scenarios,” he said.
A 63-year-old man from Tilottama-5, Rupandehi, who also took self-prescribed medicines from a local pharmacy for fever and common cold, is currently admitted to the ICU at the Corona Hospital in Butwal.
“We took him to the Corona Hospital in Butwal after the lab test confirmed Covid-19. He is now in the ICU,” said his eldest son.
Dr Jhapendra Dhakal of Sancho Health Care Pvt. Ltd in Tansen, the district headquarters of Palpa, says most Covid-19 patients in the district have become heavily reliant on pharmacies for treatment, especially in the rural areas, since there are hardly any medical officers available at medical clinics or local health posts outside Tansen.
Medical stores in both the cities and rural areas of Palpa have run out of paracetamol among other essential medicines after a surge in the number of people buying the tablets.
Indra Baral of Himalaya Model Pharmacy in Rainadevi Chhahara Rural Municipality, Palpa, said, “There’s a shortage of paracetamol, zinc and vitamin C tablets, among other medicines. The flow of people purchasing such medicines has surged in recent days.”