Background: In India, private pharmacies are ubiquitous yet critical
establishments that facilitate community access to medicines. These are often the first points of treatment seeking in parts of
India and other low income settings around the world. The characteristics of these pharmacies including their
location, drug availability, human resources and infrastructure have not been studied before. Given the ubiquity
and popularity of private pharmacies in India, such information would be useful to harness the potential of these
pharmacies to deliver desirable public health outcomes, to facilitate regulation and to involve in initiatives
pertaining to rational drug use. This study was a cross sectional survey that mapped private pharmacies in one district on a
geographic information system and described relevant characteristics of these units.
Methods: This study of pharmacies was a part of larger cross sectional survey
carried out to map all the health care providers in Ujjain district (population 1.9 million), Central India, on a
geographic information system. Their location vis-à-vis formal providers of health services were studied. Other
characteristics like human resources, infrastructure, clients and availability of tracer drugs were also surveyed.
Results: A total 475 private pharmacies were identified in the district.
Three-quarter were in urban areas, where they were concentrated around physician practices. In rural areas, pharmacies
were located along the main roads. A majority of pharmacies simultaneously retailed medicines from multiple systems
of medicine. Tracer parenteral antibiotics and injectable steroids were available in 83.7% and 88.7% pharmacies
respectively. The proportion of clients without prescription was 39.04%. Only 11.58% of staff had formal
pharmacist qualifications. Power outages were a significant challenge.
Conclusion: This is the first mapping of pharmacies & their characteristics
in India. It provides evidence of the urban dominance and close relationship between healthcare provider location and
pharmacy location. The implications of this relationship are discussed. The study reports a lack of
qualified staff in the presence of a high proportion of clients attending without a prescription. The study highlights the
need for the better implementation of regulation. Besides facilitating regulation & partnerships, the data also
provides a sampling frame for future interventional studies on these pharmacies.