In low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) in Asia, pharmacies are often patients' first point of contact with the health care system and their preferred channel for purchasing medicines. Unfortunately, pharmacy practice in these settings has been characterized by deficient knowledge and inappropriate treatment. This paper systematically reviews both the performance of all types of pharmacies and drug stores across Asia's LMIC, and the determinants of poor practice, in order to reflect on how this could best be addressed. Poor pharmacy practice in Asia appears to have persisted over the past 30 years. We identify a set of inadequacies that occur at key moments throughout the pharmacy encounter, including: insufficient history taking; lack of referral of patients who require medical attention; illegal sale of a wide range of prescription only medicines without a prescription; sale of medicines that are either clinically inappropriate and/or in doses that are outside of the therapeutic range; sale of incomplete courses of antibiotics; and limited provision of information and counselling. In terms of determinants of poor practice, first knowledge was found to be necessary but not sufficient to ensure correct management of patients presenting at the pharmacy. This is evidenced by large discrepancies between stated and actual practice; little difference in the treatment behaviour of less and more qualified personnel and the failure of training programmes to improve practice to a satisfactory level. Second, we identified a number of profit maximizing strategies employed by pharmacy staff that can be linked to poor practices. Finally, whilst the research is relatively sparse, the regulatory environment appears to play an important role in shaping behaviour. Future efforts to improve the situation may yield more success than historical attempts, which have tended to concentrate on education, if they address the profit incentives faced by pharmacy personnel and the regulatory system.
Keywords: Asia; developing countries; pharmacies; private sector; quality of care.
© The Author 2016. Published by Oxford University Press in association with The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.