Meds and you

01 February 2013

Save money on meds

With a multitude of OTC medicines available worldwide, patients and consumers are ideally positioned to invest in proactive lifestyle choices and responsible self-care.


Cash-strapped South Africans needn’t compromise their health simply because they cannot afford a doctor consultation or prescription medicine. With over 100,000 non-prescription or over the counter (OTC) medicines and self-care knowledge readily available, we are well-equipped to stay healthy and save money.

With a multitude of OTC medicines available worldwide, patients and consumers are ideally positioned to invest in proactive lifestyle choices and responsible self-care, the long-term benefit of which is a better quality of life and more cash in hand.

Self-care involves:

  • Making healthy lifestyle choices such as physical activity and healthy eating, which allow the maintenance of good health and the prevention of illness.
  • Making responsible use of all medicines (prescription and non-prescription)
  • Self-recognition of symptoms, which involves assessing and addressing symptoms, if necessary in partnership with a healthcare professional (not necessarily a doctor).
  • Self-monitoring, which involves checking signs and symptoms for deterioration or improvement.
  • Self-management, which includes being able to manage the symptoms of disease, either alone or in partnership with healthcare professionals or other people with the same health condition.

Self medication

Reading the label

Consumers are spoilt for choice as there is a growing choice of non-prescription, OTC medicines to treat an expanding range of ailments including certain chronic conditions such as asthma. Some can treat conditions like acne, prevent diseases like athlete’s foot and, with a doctor’s guidance, help manage recurring conditions like yeast infections, headaches and minor pain from arthritis. With this choice comes the responsibility to become better informed about self-care. By being an informed consumer and being involved in your healthcare, you can decrease your medicine’s risks and side effects, and increase the benefits while also making more informed choices when using medicine.


  • Self-medication might reduce the need for medicine through informed and responsible assessment.
  • Self-medication may reduce the burden on the government by reducing the frequency of unnecessary doctor visitations by the consumer.
  • Self-medication can be safe if people are well informed.

Dangers to self-medication

  • Inadequate knowledge about medicine including local culture barriers
  • Self-medication might delay treatment of serious conditions

Common over the counter medicines include:

  • Nicotine replacement therapy (proven effective in helping people to quit smoking)
  • Low-dose aspirin (proven effective in reducing the incidence of second heart attack)
  • Calcium supplementation (proven effective in reducing the incidence of osteoporosis in older women)
  • Medicated mouthwashes (for prevention of dental cavities, the most widespread of all non-communicable diseases)
  • Eye drops for conjunctivitis
  • Anti-allergy – oral and topical for hay fever and allergic rhinitis (nose sprays)
  • Painkillers for aches and pains
  • Electrolytes for dehydration
  • Cough and cold preparations for symptoms of colds and flu
  • Anti-diarrhoeals
  • Topical preparations for muscular pain and inflammation
  • Laxatives

Did you know? Ten facts about non-prescription medicines

  • They are medicines that you can purchase without a prescription from a doctor.
  • They are as strictly regulated as prescription medicines. They in fact have to meet standards for consumer use, in particular with regards to their labelling and packaging.
  • They are approved as safe and effective for use as directed on the label.
  • Most non-prescription are available only from a pharmacy which ensures greater control and comes with a pharmacist being on hand to offer professional advice and guidance.
  • When patients and consumers have the initiative for their own treatment, they are in a better position to take charge of their health.
  • In the United States, a consumer survey found that 65% of people wish that some of the prescription medicines they take would be made available without a prescription.
  • More than 200 ingredients are available for use without a prescription. Non-prescription medicines come in different forms such as pills, capsules, liquids, creams, gels and patches. In total, there are over 100,000 non-prescription medicines available worldwide for patients and consumers.
  • Non-prescription medicines can be used in many different situations. They can be used for acute symptoms, for chronic conditions or for minor ailments.
  • Of all the medicines that are nowadays available without a prescription, many would have been considered in the past as unsuitable for use in self-medication.
  • Self-care and self-medication with nonprescription medicines is the most prevalent form of medical care in the world.

(Press release, Self-Medication Manufacturers Association of South Africa (SMASA), February 2013)



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