World self-medication industry
The world federation promoting better health through responsible self-medication
NGO in official relations with the World Health Organization

Responsible self-medication and rationale use of medicines

The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a fact sheet on the rational use of medicines in May 2010. (Fact Sheet No. 338, May 2010 can be downloaded from:

WHO defines rationale use as meaning “the correct, proper and appropriate use of medicines”. WHO estimates that more than half of all medicines are prescribed, dispensed or sold inapropriately, and that half of all patients fail to take them correctly. According to WHO, this incorrect use may take the form of overuse, underuse and misuse of prescription or nonprescription medicines. The fact sheet highlights among other things that the unrestricted availability of medicines in some countries contributes to the incorrect use of medicines: “In many countries, prescription medicines such as antibiotics, are freely available over-the-counter. This leads to overuse, inappropriate self-medication and non-adherence to dosing regimes”.

WHO’s term “inappropriate self-medication” refers to “irrational self-prescription” (the use of prescription medicines without obtaining a prescription). WSMI supports responsible use of nonprescription medicines and the appropriate enforcement of national regulations to combat irrational self-prescription. Nonprescription medicines are especially designed and labelled for use without medical supervision and are approved by national and regional authorities as safe and effective for such use. The significant problem of people treating themselves with presription drugs in countries where enforcement of the prescription requirement is insufficient is reduced by wider availability of nonprescription medicines. A study in Mexico showed a 20% decrease in the degree of self-prescription in the 10 years between 1989 and 1999, attributed to the significant number of switches from prescription to nonprescription status authorised by the Mexican Ministry of Health between 1995 and 1998. 

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