Essential Drugs Monitor No. 018 (1994)
Public education in drug use is needed because without it people lack the skills and knowledge which they require to make informed decisions about how to use drugs (including when they should not be used) and to understand the role of drugs in health care, concludes the report of a DAP informal consultation summarised in this issue. Inappropriate drug use has serious health and economic consequences, not just for individuals, but also for the community and for the success of national drug policies, the report emphasises. The striking findings of the Ugandan injection study reported on page 11 highlight one particularly urgent focus for public education.
Recognition of the importance of public education in the rational use of drugs has been slow but is growing. Although regular readers will be familiar with some of the education work that has been undertaken in a number of countries and reported in the Monitor, most is unknown outside the area of activity. This is because many projects are small scale - often conducted by NGOs - and are undocumented and unevaluated. It is therefore difficult for those who would like to make a start, to learn from others' experience and strategies.
To meet this need the Action Programme is conducting a global survey of public drug education programmes - both national and local - which will include a critical assessment of their effectiveness. The aim is to establish a reference collection of related materials and strategies, which can be drawn on by programme implementers and which will be regularly updated. The knowledge and experience gained will be published and widely disseminated. The goal is not to replicate one country's materials in another - to be effective communication materials have to be culturally specific - but rather to develop practical tools and approaches for programme development and implementation. Readers are invited to participate in this survey and will find further details on page 16.
A critical element in the proper use of prescription drugs is the communication between doctor and patient. An Australian study, in l986, which examined doctors' attitudes to and practice in giving information to patients, and patients' experiences and expectations in receiving information, concluded that doctors were giving less information than patients wanted. This led a working group of consumers, health and legal professionals to formulate guidelines on the provision of information to patients about proposed treatment and procedures."An open exchange between doctors and patients is crucial" the guidelines emphasise. "Each brings to the consultation different information, options and understanding which are important for making decisions and achieving the patient's well being.
Allowing opportunity for discussion may be as important for patients as giving and receiving information". Although written for a developed country, with an advanced health system, the core principles underlying the Australian guidelines, are globally valid. For this reason they are reproduced in this issue.
People who are prescribed drugs and those who purchase them over the counter have a right to be fully informed about the potential benefits and risks of the pharmaceutical products they are prescribed or which are available over the counter and to gain a balanced understanding of appropriate treatment options. Governments, manufacturers, educators and health professionals have clear obligations to meet their respective responsibilities to ensure that the community can acquire the skills and has access to the knowledge to understand the potential role and hazards of medicine use and individual