More than half of all people who have visited pharmacies for medical advice in the past 12 months were offered antibiotics in contravention of the law, according to the National's survey. A third were sold antibiotics once, but a quarter were advised to take the drugs on two or even three occasions within the relevant period.
Sixty per cent of those surveyed said they had opted to visit a pharmacist instead of a doctor when they fell ill in the past year, and 44 per cent felt doctors overprescribed drugs. The finding follows a survey in March that showed doctors in Ras al Khaimah were prescribing twice as many antibiotics as other drugs, fuelling fears that a range of diseases could develop resistance to their effects.
In the Ministry of Health's draft national pharmacy programme for 2008-2010, it was estimated that about 70 per cent of pharmacists sold antibiotics over the counter, which is illegal. Article 11 of the 1983 Pharmacy Law states that "the licensed pharmacist should not give any medicine or medicinal preparation without a medical prescription in clear handwriting". Despite this law, it seems many pharmacists continue to sell antibiotics over the counter, and patients continue to buy them.
Dr Abid Ali, a private doctor in Sharjah, said: "It is never good if someone decides to treat themselves. They are not doctors so how would they know what is wrong?" He said that although the internet was a good tool for checking minor symptoms, it should not be used as an alternative to a qualified doctor. "There are of course dangers to this. Many many illnesses have the same symptoms but are very different. So the type of treatment you need will be very different. Doctors study for more than five years, it is a complicated topic.
"Of course there is also a problem with antibiotic resistance. If people are unnecessarily taking antibiotics, the viruses become resistant so there is nothing for the patient to take when they really need it. This happens a lot here because people do not go to the doctors, they go and buy medicine from a pharmacist." Health officials are also aware of the problem and risks of self-diagnosis. At a pharmaceutical conference in Dubai in March, doctors discussed how better to educate pharmacists and try to change their role of unofficial doctor.
Speaking before the event, Dr Ali al Sayed, director of the pharmaceutical services department at the Dubai Health Authority, said: "We want to educate the pharmacists about how they can better educate the public." firstname.lastname@example.org