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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Illegal pharmacies still thriving

Illegal pharmacies still thriving

Illegal pharmacies are alive and well in Cambodia despite years of Ministry of Health

(MoH) efforts to eradicate them.

According to MoH figures for the year 2000, there are 2,794 illegal pharmacies in

Cambodia and 343 legal ones. In Phnom Penh, there are 224 legal establishments and

400 illegal ones. This is a nominal decrease from 1999 figures, in which there were

2,843 illegal pharmacies.

Dr Chroeng Sokhan, vice director of the Bureau of Essential Drugs, said the problem

of illegal pharmacies is one that the MoH has tried to tackle.

"A lot of effort has been made by the MoH to abolish illegal pharmacies,"

said Dr Sokhan. "The problem still [remains] to be solved."

The MoH has created laws regulating pharmacies, the registering of medicines, and

the importation and exportation of medicines; however, an effective implementation

of these regulations has yet to happen.

In 1997, the MoH made its first attempt to abolish illegal pharmacies. A blitz of

information disseminated warned that the authorities were searching for illegal pharmacies.

For the first three days after the campaign, illegal pharmacies in Phnom Penh closed

their doors. Evidence was found that proved medicine without prescriptions was being

sold, but the illegal pharmacies stayed open.

"In 1997, there was no collaboration from authorities to close down illegal

pharmacies," said Dr Sokhan. "The [people who ran illegal pharmacies] paid

the authorities to protect them. They went to court, got fined, but they are still

there."

In 1999, the MoH formed a committee to combat the problem of illegal pharmacies but

two years later the picture remains the same. Dr Sokhan said that the authorities

have now agreed to crack down on illegal pharmacies after the commune elections.

The danger of illegal pharmacies remaining open is people are buying medicine without

really knowing the effects it could have on their health. Often, people are not taking

the drugs properly or are taking several drugs at the same time. The MoH has no statistics

on how many become seriously ill or die from taking the wrong amount or combination

of medicines.

"We don't have an information center. People don't know who to report to [if

they get ill]," said Dr Sokhan.

A lack of money is why most people go to illegal pharmacies, which offer medicines

at cheaper prices than regulated legal ones.

"Legal pharmacies sell quality safe drugs from good sources," said Dr Sokhan.

"They can't compete with illegal pharmacies. Some illegal pharmacies sell cheap

drugs from [unreliable] sources. [Legal pharmacies] don't have a chance to survive."

A customer can differentiate between a legal and illegal pharmacy by the presence

of a green cross symbol. The symbol means that the pharmacy is registered with the

MoH.

The MoH uses a checklist to ensure that a registered pharmacy is up to code: it has

enough space, an air-conditioning unit, and a refrigerator. The application fee is

$50 and the credentials of the pharmacist are checked. The MoH also looks at population

density; ideally, there should be one pharmacy per 2000 people, said Dr Sokhan.

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