"This body does not want free medicines": South African consumer perceptions of drug quality

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OBJECTIVES Like many other developing countries, South Africa provides free medicines through its public health care facilities. Recent policies encourage generic substitution in the private sector. This study explored South African consumer perceptions of drug quality and whether these perceptions influenced how people procured and used their medicines. METHODS The study was undertaken in Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg in South Africa between December 2005 and January 2006. A combination of purposive and snowball sampling was used to recruit participants from low and middle socio-economic groups as well as the elderly and teenagers. Data were collected through 12 focus group discussions involving a total of 73 participants. Interviews were tape-recorded. Thematic analysis was performed on the transcripts. RESULTS Irrespective of socio-economic status, respondents described medicine quality in terms of the effect the medicine produced on felt symptoms. Generic medicines, as well as medicines supplied without charge by the state, were considered to be poor quality and treated with suspicion. Respondents obtained medicines from three sources: public sector hospitals and/or clinics, dispensing doctors and community pharmacies. Cost, avoidance of feeling 'second-class', receiving individualized care and choice in drug selection were the main determinants influencing their procurement behaviour. Selection of over-the-counter medicines was influenced by prior knowledge of products, through advertising and previous use. Participants perceived that they had limited influence on selection of prescription medicines. Generic substitution would be supported if the doctor, rather than the pharmacist, recommended it. CONCLUSIONS Our findings emphasize the importance of meaningful consumer involvement in the development of national medicines policies, and strategic campaigns targeting consumers and prescribers regarding the quality of generic and essential medicines. Where consumers perceive free or generic medicines as inferior, this could significantly undermine attempts to implement national medicines policies aimed to improve access to medicines.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHealth Policy and Planning
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)61-9
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes

ID: 40348893