Self-medication practices among university undergraduate students in Edo and Delta State, Nigeria

Anita Umebese is an Internal Medicine Resident at the Delta State University Teaching Hospital in Nigeria and has just completed the Master of Public Health programme by distance learning. Anita chose the course because she has a passion for public health. She believes that the course has given her the knowledge and skills that will help her to achieve her goal of working with the World Health Organization to provide solutions for some of the pertinent public health concerns that affect the world, particularly in Africa.

The title of Anita's MPH research project was "Self-medication practices among university undergraduate students in Edo and Delta State, Nigeria".


Introduction: Self-medication can be defined as the use of medication without a doctor’s prescription to treat self-diagnosed disorders or symptoms. Although it empowers individuals to take greater control of their health, inappropriate self-medication involving medicines that usually require a prescription represent a public health concern due to individual harm. Worldwide, various studies have shown a high prevalence of self-medication, with a higher prevalence in developing countries, such as Nigeria.

Objective: To explore why Nigerian university undergraduate students practiced self-medication and to identify any association between demographic factors and self-medication; to investigate the factors that encourage self- medication and to explore the reasons for university undergraduates self-medicating instead of seeing a doctor.

Methods: Descriptive, cross-sectional, quantitative design and primary data collection using a pre-tested questionnaire was undertaken. This explored students’ extent of self-medication, use of medical services and attitudes and knowledge of medicines. The questionnaire was distributed by hand and electronically to students from the University of Benin and Benson Idahosa University in Edo state and Delta state university and Western Delta University in Delta state, Nigeria. Data analysis was undertaken using SPSS and descriptive and inferential techniques.

Results: 200 respondents completed the questionnaire. The majority (85.5%) had self-medicated in the past. The majority (60.2%) reported not visiting the hospital during their last episode of illness. The commonest self-reported illness was malaria (26.5%) and the commonest medications used for self-medication were antimalarials (47.7%) and antibiotics (22%). Over half of respondents (53.4%) reported that a pharmacist had not required a drug prescription before selling a medicine and 70.6% cited long waiting hours at the hospital as the most important reason for self-medicating. 85.9% reported that their perceived knowledge of the medicine they needed to treat the illness was the reason for choosing a particular medicine for self-medication and 57% perceived self-medication to have been effective in addressing their last reported illness.

Discussion and Conclusions: This study provides additional insights that in Nigeria, self-medication rates are high amongst student populations. This may be associated with students wanting to avoid long waiting times to see a doctor. Use of antibiotics and antimalarials without medical involvement or prescriptions raises additional concerns about resistance at local, national and global levels. There is a need to educate students on the appropriate use of medication in responsible self-medication practices.