Why you should avoid self-medication by all means

Thirty-three-year-old Akin Adelaja felt feverish before he went to bed. By the time he woke up the next morning, his body temperature level had hit the roof. Adelaja knew he had to do something urgently if he would go to the office that day.

To avert any delay, he sent a flat mate to get some anti-malarial drugs for him at one of the trusted pharmacies in the neighbourhood. Unfortunately, he collapsed while swallowing the first dose of the drug.

Doctors, who ran tests on him after he was rushed to a private hospital in Ikeja, Lagos, confirmed that Adelaja  had experienced the symptoms of a severe form of an upper respiratory tract infection.

The medics said he was lucky. According to them, if Adelaja had not received the right diagnosis and treatment, the damage to his respiratory system would have been irreversible.

In this part of the world, the belief is that any illness that starts with any feverish symptoms is malaria. Because anti-malarial drugs are sold over-the-counter in Nigeria, anyone can lay their hands on them.

A recent survey by Pharmaceutical Products Regulatory Agency revealed that anti-malarial drugs, not cannabis, were the most abused substances in the country.

This, however, is not surprising as malaria is endemic in Nigeria. A Consultant Family Physician, Dr. Segun Agbaje, argues that it does not mean that every individual with symptoms of fever should start consuming antimalarial medication.

The physician, who defines self-medication as the  act of purchasing and administering drugs on oneself without consulting a doctor or medical practitioner for a prescription, notes that this age-long practice has led to the death of many Nigerians.

Agbaje describes self-medication as a double tragedy that has serious implications for individuals who engage in it.

He explains, “For instance, you have pneumonia, but you keep using antimalarial medication because you prescribed it for yourself; you have two problems on your hand. First, the drug will only suppress the pneumonia infection for a while till the day it rears its ugly head.

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“Also, when you actually have malaria and take antimalarial, it won’t work because the body is already used to it and it has built some form of resistance against it. To get better, you will need a stronger medication and if you are not careful, you may succumb to the disease. Don’t doubt it; malaria kills more than any disease in the country.”

The medic is not exaggerating. According to the World Health Organisation, malaria is the biggest killer disease in Africa. Statistics show that the disease claims over 400,000 lives in 2015.

The situation is worse in Nigeria. Malaria kills about 300,000 children under the age of five and 7,000 pregnant women annually. The Federal Government spends about N480m for the treatment of the disease annually.

Some forms of malaria infections can be deadly. Family health physician, Dr. Femi Omolola, notes that cerebral malaria, which starts with symptoms of fever but later ends in loss of brain functions, is the highest killer of children in the country.

Omolola says, “Malaria is killing children in the country because too many people have access to malaria drugs, so they see no reason to take their children to hospitals when they have fever. They simply buy drugs at shops and administer them themselves. But they fail to realise that the infection may have spread to some sensitive parts of the body like the brain.

“That is why we urge people not practice self-medication even when it comes to malaria because it may be the drug resistant type which can lead to loss of life when you don’t treat it aggressively.  You can only get treatment in a proper hospital not at an herbal practitioner’s home who will only be experimenting with your life.”

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Doctors also warn that self-medication does not only frustrate medical treatment, but also exposes those who practice it to the adverse reaction from such drugs.

Agbaje says that most times, patients do not know the composition of chemicals in the drugs they use. For this reason, they should consult their physicians who have their medical history and the required knowledge to guide them.

“Any anti-malarial drug in the custody of someone who has no knowledge of how it works is a poison. It is dangerous to ingest any drug, because you do not know whether you may have an allergic reaction to it.

“Many drugs have adverse effects and certain medicines can trigger allergic reactions. If you take those drugs without supervision in combination with other drugs, the consequences may be severe. You may experience increased contraction of the heart and fall into a coma. Many have died from adverse effect of drug abuse.” Agbaje stresses.

The WHO has specified the guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of malaria.

The health authority says before anyone is given any anti-malarial medication, he/she must undergo either a rapid test, which takes less than two minutes or a blood test, which lasts for less than 20 minutes.

Get tested by a qualified health professional before consuming antimalarial drugs.

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