Purpose: We set out to determine effectiveness of interventions for improving the quality of services provided by specialized drug shops in sub-Saharan Africa.
Data sources: We searched PubMed, CAB Abstracts, Web of Science, PsycINFO and Eldis databases and websites for organizations such as WHO and Management Sciences for Health. Finally, we searched manually through the references of retrieved articles.
Study selection: Our search strategy included randomized trials, time-series studies and before and after studies evaluating six interventions; education, peer review, reorganizing administrative structures, incentives, regulation and legislation.
Data extraction: We extracted information on design features, participants, interventions and outcomes assessed studies for methodological quality, and extracted results, all using uniform checklists.
Results of data synthesis: We obtained 10 studies, all implementing educational interventions. Outcome measures were heterogeneous and included knowledge, communication and dispensing practices. Education improved knowledge across studies, but gave mixed results on communication between sellers and clients, dispensing of appropriate treatments and referring of patients to health facilities. Profit incentives appeared to constrain behaviour change in certain instances, although cases of shops adopting practices at the expense of sales revenue were also reported.
Conclusion: Evidence suggests that knowledge and practices of pharmacies and drug shops can be improved across a range of diseases and countries/regions, although variations were reported across studies. Profit incentives appear to bear some influence on the level of success of interventions. More work is required to extend the geographical base of evidence, investigate cost-effectiveness and evaluate sustainability of interventions over periods longer than 1 year.