The extent, challenges, and regulation of online provision of pharmaceutical products and services by community pharmacies in Kampala, a mixed methods study
Fauzi, Ibrahim Ali
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Background: Online pharmacies took center stage during the COVID-19 pandemic. This pandemic triggered an extraordinary demand for innovations that enabled remote access to medicines using technology amidst restrictions on movements meant to curb the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus. However, this presented challenges like the sale of Prescription-Only-Medicines (POMs) without prescription and the sale of falsified and substandard medicines. Aims: This mixed methods study aimed at assessing the extent, challenges, and regulation of online provision of pharmaceutical products and services by community pharmacies in Kampala. Methods: Community pharmacies in Kampala were sampled using the Yamane formula and simple random sampling was used to select the pharmacies to participate in the study. Community pharmacy staff from the selected pharmacies were engaged to answer research questionnaires. These research questionnaires collected quantitative data on the extent and challenges of the online provision of pharmaceutical products and services in Kampala. Through key informant interviews, qualitative data on regulation, and the perspective of the NDA on the regulation of online provision of pharmaceutical products and services by community pharmacies in Kampala were also collected. This data was analyzed and presented as descriptions, tables, and charts. Results: 58.6% of the sampled community pharmacies provide online pharmaceutical products and services. This is done through the use of social media platforms like WhatsApp and phone calls. Over 87% of the pharmacies that provide online services also provide delivery services for their customers. High internet costs, poor quality internet, and labor shortage are the biggest challenges affecting the service. Furthermore, the online system may promote access to POMs without a prescription, sale of substandard and falsified medicines and inadequate patient counseling. The NDA is aware of the dangers of online community pharmacies and is yet to regulate them, but they are behind schedule in developing transportation regulations. Conclusion: As the online provision of pharmaceutical products and services provides for improved accessibility of drugs by patients, there is a need for its regulation to ensure appropriate medicines use. Recommendations: The NDA should come with proper regulation to streamline the provision of the online services by community pharmacies.