Aim of the review: In low and middle income countries private pharmacies are considered a valuable resource for health advice and medicines in many communities. However the quality of the service they provide has often been questioned and is unclear. This paper reviews the evidence regarding the quality of professional services from private pharmacies in low and middle-income countries.
Method: A literature search (computer and hand searches) was undertaken to identify all studies which included an assessment of the quality of some aspect of private pharmacy services in low and middle income countries.
Results: 30 studies were identified which spanned all regions in the developing world. These included 9 which examined the scope and/or quality of a range of professional services, 14 which assessed the quality of advice provided in response to specific symptoms and 7 which investigated the supply of medicines without a prescription. A range of methods were employed, in particular, questionnaire surveys with staff and/or clients and assessment of practice using simulated client methodology. Whilst many authors identified a potential for pharmacies to contribute more effectively to primary health care, virtually all studies identified deficiencies in the quality of current professional practice. In particular authors highlighted the lack of presence of pharmacists or other trained personnel, the provision of advice for common symptoms which was not in accordance with guidelines and the inappropriate supply of medicines.
Conclusion: The evidence-base regarding the quality of professional services from pharmacies in low and middle income countries is limited, but indicates that standards are often deficient. If pharmacists are to contribute effectively to health care, the barriers to the provision of higher quality care and ways in which these might be overcome must be identified and examined.