A survey to determine the perception of registered homoeopaths in South Africa toward the availability of over the counter (OTC) homoeopathic medicines
Broughton, Tymara Catheryn
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Discussion among homoeopaths in South Africa provides the impression that there is a degree of misunderstanding and ignorance about homoeopathy, and opinions are varied on its application and efficacy amongst the South African public. An over the counter (OTC) medicine, is a medicine which is sold without a prescription directly to the public, which includes homoeopathic medicines. OTC medicines may be sold at any retail outlet, i.e. a pharmacy or general store. There is much evidence pointed towards the growth and rise in over the counter sales in complementary and alternative medicine, a growth of more than 17% in total, homoeopathy is a major part of the complementary and alternative medicine group, having its own growth of more than 16% over a four year period. Self-medication in the form of over the counter medicines forms the main part of this industry (Caldis, 2000). The market was previously examined by the Mintel Group for complementary medicines and its growth in sales, in April 2003. Since then, the market has continued to expand, growing by 45% in real terms from 1999 to 2004. Greater consumer awareness of alternative medicines, an interest in healthy lifestyles, and the willingness to self-medicate certain conditions have all contributed to the increased value of sales (Mintel, 2005). Whenever the economic and public health benefits of self-medication are discussed, it is important to address inequalities in health. This means that not every citizen may feel sufficiently confident to practice responsible self-medication. It is also evident that not everybody has the financial means to do iii so. The whole notion of responsible self-medication both in a traditional sense and in the future is based on the concept of choice. Allowing individuals certain options when they suffer minor, self-limiting or chronic diseases is the fundamental consideration behind responsible self-medication (AESGP, 2004). Methodology A non-experimental descriptive survey was conducted to determine the perceptions of registered South African Homoeopaths regarding the availability of over the counter homoeopathic remedies. A self-administered questionnaire was distributed and 68 anonymous responses were obtained. Raw data was analysed using descriptive statistics and the relationships between variables tested for correlations. Results Respondents perceived homoeopathic OTC medicine sales and their availability in health shops and pharmacies, as contributing to the promotion of the profession as well as increasing its accessibility to the public. Other benefits perceived were the cost effectiveness of homoeopathic OTC medicines and convenience for home usage. The majority of respondents felt that there should be certain restrictions regarding the availability of OTC homoeopathic medicines, such as, the limitations regarding the availability of certain potencies. Participants also expressed concern over the degree of training held by retail outlet staff. Certain respondents felt that homoeopathic medicines should only be iv available with a prescription or used under the guidance of their practitioner. Other negative aspects of over the counter homoeopathic medicines were: incorrect use of medication, overdosing, and potential negative effects the patient may experience if the OTC medicine interacts with other medication, as well as the concern over the risks of self-medicating without the advice from a practitioner. Conclusions and recommendations The majority of respondents were in favour of the availability of homoeopathic OTC medicines to the public, provided that they are suitably regulated to ensure patient safety and quality control. Furthermore the regulation of the relevant retail outlets including education of staff in this regard was recommended. Respondents also were in favour of the awareness of the profession that homoeopathic OTC medicines created.