Document Type : Original Article
Department of Global Health and Development, Faculty of Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
The growth of chain pharmacies in India, and other low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), is challenging the status quo of pharmacy retail markets which have historically been dominated by independent pharmacies. This raises the question of whether such organisations will have a positive impact on affordability and access to medicines.
This paper draws on a standardised patient (SP) survey to measure the prices of medicines and expenditure on consultations for two tracer conditions (suspected tuberculosis [TB] in an adult and diarrhoea in an absent child) at a random sample of 230 chain and independent pharmacies in Bengaluru. Asset data were collected from 808 exit interviews with pharmacy customers to determine socioeconomic profiles of clients.
Chain pharmacies were found to provide lower priced medicines for patients seeking care for diarrhoea and TB, with expenditure also lower for diarrhoea patients, compared to independent pharmacies. This was seemingly driven by lower prices rather than number of medicines dispensed or prescribing habits. Despite the availability of cheaper medicines, chains served wealthier clients, compared to independent pharmacies.
The findings indicate the potential for chains to contribute to improving medicine affordability as they expand. However, any attempt to leverage this organisational model for public health good would need to take account of the current client-mix of these pharmacies and be accompanied by appropriate regulatory constraints in order to realise the potential benefits for poorer groups.