DOUALA, Cameroon 

Even as the COVID-19 or coronavirus pandemic has brought focus on global health, the practice of street pharmacy continues rampantly in the Central African country of Cameroon.

An assortment of medicines spread on a table in spaces called lawns, vendors sell them like any other object on the pavement without any prescription affecting public health and the economy.

Sadefo Moses, has been a street pharmacist for more than 18 years. He receives patients or sometimes their relatives who come to explain their ailments and buy medicines without any medical supervision.

The vendor prescribes medicines to the kin, even without seeing the patient. The kin relate symptoms and their medicine is ready.

“I took the profession as I had nothing better to do. Now I am earning some $85 a month, “said Moses.

Cameroonians call these pharmacy vendors “docta”, meaning “doctor”.

Street pharmacist Honore Chougne likes to be called a docta. The profession of selling medicine on a pavement has enabled him to take care of his wife and six children for the past 20 years.

To stock up, these amateur pharmacists receive parcels from abroad. They are carried by travelers and even genuine pharmacists.

“We place orders and they voluntarily send us supplies “, said Moses.

In the market, there are men in white coats, who claim to be professional pharmacists, but without means to afford to hire premises.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency Andre Yana, a pharmacist said these people were taking advantage of peoples’ ignorance.

“The amateur pharmacist cannot diagnose and prescribe medicines. They also does not ask questions about the patient’s history,” said another pharmacist Nkogni Yves.

“Cameroonians are ignorant. They prefer to go to street pharmacists because they do not know that in pharmacies they can find generic drugs also at lower costs,” he said.

Street medicine is cheaper

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, many people in the market admitted that they approach street vendors because they sell medicines cheaper than real pharmacies at the counter.

“Poverty does not allow average Cameroonians to buy medicine at pharmacies. They add up taxes and electricity bills, besides the price of medicines,” said Moses.

The selling medicines illegally is not without risk. Police officers once a year do seize goods or ransack sales outlets. But sometimes let these fake pharmacies off the hook after taking bribes, he said.

But Yana feels that poor quality of storage and the mode of delivery of these drugs makes them killing agents.

“They are badly preserved and some are made and mixed in the street. It is possible to get relief by chance. But these vendors are more concerned about profits rather public health. They will do anything to finish their stocks as quickly as possible. They very often provide expired medicines,” he added.

According to the Cameroonian government, this illegal activity is worth more than 25% of the national drug market. The national law prohibits even those with proper pharmacy degrees to display and distribute drugs along highways, in fairs, and markets.

Former Cameroonian Health Minister Andra Mama Fouda said the only way to stop this practice was to use the baton of law to punish the guilty.

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