Why I Hate Going to Pharmacies in Pakistan

Rafia Bosan

I was visiting family in Pakistan over the winter break, and it is always nice to leave behind the -20C in Canada for the very mild winters there. I also enjoy binging on their traditional foods, and being a tourist in my hometown of Lahore. I love so much about that city, from the colourful rickshaws to the crowded markets. However, one of the main things I hate doing in Lahore is going to a pharmacy, mainly because that means either I’m sick or someone I know is sick. There is another reason why I cringe every time I enter a pharmacy which are  found in every area of the city, and it’s linked to me being a microbiology student.

I hate going into pharmacies, where the shelves are lined with different antibiotics in many forms, ready for anyone to simply walk in and buy. I get anxious because I see people purchasing these antibiotics as a self-treatment for nearly any sickness--from the flu, to a rash, and It doesn’t stop there—I hear the pharmacists themselves suggesting antibiotics for the wrong illnesses, since that is often the only way to keep customers satisfied. Patients are comforted by the illusion that they are getting what they believe is the most effective drug against any infectious disease.

Antimicrobial resistance has been emphasized by the World Health Organization as a major threat to global health for 2019. Bacteria are smart, living creatures that develop ways to protect themselves against a given drug after encountering it several times. With continued exposure due to overuse, we are giving the bacteria more chances to develop these physiological changes and to challenge the drugs. It is estimated that by 2050, 10 million lives every year are at risk due to the rise of drug-resistant infections if this problem is not tackled.

Even today, 700,000 people die of resistant infections every year. There are many reasons for the emergence of drug-resistant infections, but most important perhaps is the misuse and overuse of antibiotics in humans as well as , animals involved in food production. Pakistan is currently one of the countries in the world with a “double” burden of disease: rates of non-communicable diseases rising along with the presence of many infectious diseases. The emergence of drug-resistance may hinder the progress being made in tackling infectious diseases, as alarming rates of drug-resistant tuberculosis and typhoid are now emerging. If action is not taken to slow down this problem, antimicrobial resistance “threatens to send us back to a time when we were unable to easily treat infections such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, gonorrhoea, and salmonellosis”. It’s important to note that even if a person in Pakistan develops this problem, it would be very easy to carry it to any part of the world given the ease of travel.

So what needs to be done to solve this problem? There are many suggestions tackling this issue from a global health perspective—improving sanitation, policy changes for regulating the use on farms and prescriptions, and monitoring the emergence of any drug-resistant infections. However, I think the most important thing we need to do is educate people. It is important that countries with high rates of emerging drug-resistant infections highlight this as a major threat to public health.. It is also important to educate the lay population about the side-effects of antibiotic overuse and misuse. I believe that proper education would play a major role in tackling this global health problem.

Rafia Bosan is a U3 student pursuing a degree in Microbiology and Immunology. She has a strong interest in global health, especially pertaining to drug-resistant and emerging infectious diseases.