In Nigeria today, so many lives have been sacrificed all as a result of those victims resorting to self-medication and because some of the medical practitioners continue to make those drugs available to those victims without medical prescriptions from medical professionals. Though, few of those cases are made known to the public, the reality remains that the numbers of Nigerian citizens are actually being reduced as a result of this self-medication. In order words, this situation is becoming epidemic.
This paper appeals to the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria both Federal (for the Federal Capital Territory-Abuja) and the State of the Federation to consider the necessity of criminalizing the act of resorting to self-medication by Nigerians, either for themselves or for other persons- young or adult- in order to discourage the increasing manner of citizens resorting to taking medications/medical drugs ignorant of its contents and chemical substances along with the individual’s health situations, and to discourage and or prohibit medical practitioners in charge of medical drugs from selling those drugs to those persons without medical prescription.
Under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (3rd Alteration as amended)-herein after referred to as the Constitution-, by section 36(12), ‘Subject as otherwise provided by this Constitution, a person shall not be convicted of a criminal offence unless that offence is defined and the penalty therefore is prescribed in a written law; and in this subsection, a written law refers to an Act of the National Assembly or a law of a State, any subsidiary legislation or instrument under the provisions of a law’. This gives credence to the old sayings that ‘ In a community where there is law, then, there is sin’.
From the above provisions of the Constitution, from the research conducted by the writer of this paper, there seems not to be a written law in force either by an Act of the National Assembly or a State or any such subsidiary legislation or instrument proscribing the resorting to self-medication where it does not amount to suicide or an attempt at committing suicide, it might only be regarded as a moral wrong which is not an offence under the Nigerian criminal laws. Though, such might be regarded as an unprofessional conduct against the medical practitioner who sells such medical drugs to the victim under the Code of Medical Ethics in Nigeria, 2008, made by the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria. What the writer of this paper is saying is that there is the need to make it an offence for anyone to either treat himself by medical drugs without a prescription from a medical practitioner or take medical drugs not prescribed by a medical practitioner appropriately, except the traditional medical herbs, where necessary actions have been taken. Also, it should be an offence for any medical practitioner or pharmacist to sell any medical drug to any person without a prescription from any medical practitioner or recommendation from such medical practitioner.
Furthermore, a close study of the Penal Code Act applicable in the Federal Capital Territory-Abuja-herein after referred to as the FCT-, shows that there is no such offence punishing resorting to self-medication. It is also the view of the writer of this paper that this act or attempt at self-medicating has been so taken for granted in our country to such extent that some lives have been lost while some are perhaps still undergoing medical treatment as a result of the negative or side effects of the medical drugs taken, perhaps unknown to the public and to the government. That is why the writer of this paper has decided to draw the attention of the public and the government to this health-endangering act. There are some who diagnose themselves ignorantly and then either prescribe drugs to solving the wrongly diagnosed symptoms or listen to the prescription issued by some non-medical persons who are just sympathizers.
While some use previously prescribed medical drugs’ prescription in order to treat or assume present health conditions, the attitude which is very wrong medically. A medical doctor once shared his personal experience he had in South-Africa with the writer of this paper in respect of medical practice, which is distinct from the one being practiced in Nigeria. According to him, he once visited a medical institution to treat himself having suspected malaria, as usual in Nigeria, without carrying out any medical test, and met a medical practitioner there in the medical institution that he needed some drugs to treat his malaria sickness. However, according to him, he was refused such self-medication and that the said medical practitioner insisted that he should conduct a medical test first and that he had to consult a medical doctor first, even though he has introduced himself as a medical doctor and that it is their practice in the country to do as has been advised. The Nigerian medical doctor was shocked to discover from the test result that it was not actually malaria rather a different sickness. So, this is the same symptom many of us in Nigeria might be having that at some occasions, we felt there is actually no time to visit a medical institution or that we are just too busy for such visit and at some occasions, we felt there is just no need to consult a medical doctor so far we can just predict it is malaria or that it could be a typhoid sickness. Many times, this turns out to be the contrary and negative consequences which make the act of seeking self-medication more prone to health risk occur. Most surprisingly, those educated and non-educated, elites and non-elites have on record, been victims.
Furthermore, health institutions should be compelled by law to always report cases involving self-medication that comes to their knowledge to appropriate supervisory medical body, so that appropriate investigation and pro-active steps and measures can be taken in the public interest.
The National Orientation Agency and all other medical related Non-Governmental Organisations too have roles to play in the sensitization and awareness of the Nigerian public of the negative effect of resorting to self-medication. Health institutions also have a great role to play by making urgent and immediate report about cases of self-medication known to them in the cause of their professional duties.
Furthermore, the writer of this paper urges the Nigerian government not to disregard the message(s) being passed by this paper in view of its (Nigerian government’s) declaration to the people of Nigeria made in section 14(2)(b) of the Constitution that ‘(2) It is hereby, accordingly, declared that- (b) the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government;’.
Finally, it is the belief of the writer of this paper that the government will look into the suggestions being made by this paper and that those appropriate authorities will put in more efforts in the sensitization and awareness of the Nigerian public in advising themselves twice against resorting to self-medication.
By: Unini Ebuka
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