Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal | Past issues | Volume 16, 2010 | Volume 16, issue 2 | Indicators of rational drug use and health services in Hadramout, Yemen

Indicators of rational drug use and health services in Hadramout, Yemen


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K.A. Bashrahil1

مؤشرات الاستعمال الرشيد للأدوية وللخدمات الصحية في حضرموت، اليمن

خالد عوض باشراحيل

الخلاصـة: لايزال الاستخدام غير الرشيد من المشكلات الصحية الرئيسية في الكثير من البلدان النامية. وتستخدم هذه الدراسة المؤشرات المعيارية لمنظمة الصحة العالمية حول الاستخدام الرشيد للأدوية لتحليل 550 وصفة صادرة عن 20 مرفقاً صحياً تتوزع على مستويات مختلفة في مختلف أرجاء حضرموت، اليمن. واتضح للباحثين أن متوسط عدد الأدوية التي توصف في كل وصفة 2.8 (بانحراف معياري 0.2)، مع معدل منخفض لوصف الأدوية ذات الاسم الجنيس (غير المحدد الملكية) (%39.2). وقد بلغت نسبة وصف المضادات الحيوية (%66.2) ونسبة وصف الأدوية التي تعطى حقناً (%46.0) ونسبة وصف الفيتامينات والمقويات (%23.6). وكانت قائمة الأدوية الأساسية متوافرة لدى (%78.9) من المرافق، وأن نسبة مئوية مرتفعة من الأدوية توصف من تلك القائمة (%81.2). أما المصادر الرسمية الأخرى للمعلومات عن الأدوية المحلية فكانت أقل توافراً.

ABSTRACT: The irrational use of drugs remains a key health problem in many developing countries. Using WHO standard indicators of rational drug use, this study analysed 550 prescriptions from 20 health facilities at different levels throughout Hadramout governorate, Yemen. A mean of 2.8 (SD 0.2) drugs were prescribed per prescription, with a low rate of prescribing drugs by generic name (39.2%). The proportion of prescriptions for antibiotics was 66.2%, for injectable drugs 46.0% and for vitamins/tonics 23.6%. The essential drugs list was available in 78.9% of facilities and a high percentage of drugs were prescribed from the list (81.2%). Other official sources of local drug information were less available.

Indicateurs d’usage rationnel des médicaments et des services de santé dans le gouvernorat d’Hadramout (Yémen)

RÉSUMÉ: L’usage irrationnel des médicaments reste un problème de santé majeur dans de nombreux pays en développement. À l’aide des indicateurs standard de l’OMS relatifs à l’usage rationnel des médicaments, cette étude a analysé 550 ordonnances provenant de 20 établissements de santé de différents niveaux du gouvernorat d’Hadramout, au Yémen. En moyenne, 2,8 médicaments (écart type 0,2) étaient prescrits par ordonnance, avec un faible taux de prescription par nom générique (39,2 %). Les antibiotiques représentaient 66,2 % des prescriptions, les médicaments injectables, 46,0 % et les vitamines/fortifiants, 23,6 %. La liste des médicaments essentiels était disponible dans 78,9 % des établissements de santé et un fort pourcentage des médicaments était prescrit à partir de la liste (81,2 %). Les autres sources officielles d’informations sur les médicaments locaux étaient moins accessibles.

1Department of Pharmacology, Faculty of Medicine, Hadramout University for Science and Technology, Mukalla, Hadramout, Yemen (Correspondence to K.A. Bashrahil: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ). Received: 16/04/07; accepted: 31/10/07

EMHJ, 2010, 16(2):151-155


In Yemen, as in many developing countries, inappropriate, ineffective and inefficient use of drugs is common in heath facilities at all levels [1–5]. There are many factors influencing irrational prescribing, e.g. patients, prescribers, the workplace environment, the supply system (including industry influences), government regulations and drug information and misinformation [6–10]. Additionally, health workers receive very little initial or continuing education about the rational use of drugs.

The concept of an essential drugs list aims to promote the rational and efficient use of drugs. First developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1977, it has provided a rational basis not only for drug procurement at the national level, but also for establishing drug requirements at various levels within health care systems [6]. Essential drugs are selected to fulfil the real needs of the majority of the population in diagnostic, prophylactic, therapeutic and rehabilitative services using parameters of risk–benefit ratio, cost, effectiveness, quality and practical administration as well as patient compliance and acceptance [6,7,11].

Yemen was one of the first countries in the Region to adopt an essential drugs programme in 1986, and to implement this in the public sector [12]. The first national essential drugs list (EDL) was based on the WHO list of essential drugs and other resources [13].

This study is the first to appraise the level of development of health and pharmaceutical services in Hadramout, the largest governorate in Yemen. The aim was to apply the WHO standard indicators of rational drug use to describe health workers’ prescribing practices, to investigate the availability of essential drugs and local information sources, and to use the results of the study for recommending future interventions to promote the rational use of drugs.


A descriptive cross-sectional survey was carried out from December 2002 to February 2003 in 20 health facilities from different areas of Hadramout governorate. All levels of health facility, both government and private, were surveyed: 11 hospitals, 4 health centres and 5 health units (including Ibn Sina University Hospital and Hadramout University Health Centre in Mukalla, the capital city of the governorate). All suitable health facilities were surveyed, selected on the basis of their large size, easy accessibility and availability of documented prescriptions at the time of the survey.

Hospitals in Yemen deliver services to a population of around 50 000 or more, with surgery, internal medicine, preventive medicine, paediatrics and maternity beds as well as diagnostic services. Health centres deliver primary health care services to the community population of around 15 000, such as mother and child services and first aid, as well as health awareness and health promotion services. Health units, with no beds, usually deliver primary health care services to a population of around 1500.

A total of 550 prescriptions were collected randomly from the selected health facilities and examined to record information about prescribing indicators using a predesigned proforma. The number of selected prescriptions was proportional to the size of the health facility, i.e. to the number of daily outpatient visits. The standard WHO prescribing indicators were calculated:

Mean number of drugs/prescription,

Percentage of drugs prescribed by generic name,

Percentage of prescriptions containing antibiotics,

Percentage of antibiotics prescribed from all prescribed drugs,

Percentage of prescriptions containing injectable drugs,

Percentage of injectable drugs prescribed from all prescribed drugs,

Percentage of prescriptions containing vitamin/tonic preparations.,

Percentage of vitamin/tonic preparations prescribed from all prescribed drugs.

Percentage of drugs prescribed from the national EDL.

At each health facility the following indicators were recorded:

Availability of local drug information sources: availability of national EDL; availability of national standard treatment guidelines; and availability of the newsletter of the Supreme Board of Drugs and Medical Appliances (named Albalsem).

Availability of 12 essential drugs chosen from the national EDL. They covered the key drugs recommended for the treatment of common health problems in the public health facilities in Hadramout.

Data are presented as simple frequency, mean and standard deviation (SD).


Prescribing indicators

The 550 prescriptions were for a total of 1527 drugs, i.e. a mean of 2.8 (SD 0.2) drugs per prescription (range 1–10 drugs per prescription) (Table 1). Slightly fewer drugs were prescribed per prescription in health centres [mean 2.5 (SD 0.2)] compared with health units [mean 2.8 (SD 0.2)] and hospitals [mean 2.9 (SD 0.2)].

 Table 1 Mean number of drugs prescribed per prescription in health facilities in Hadramout governorate, Yemen

A low percentage of drugs was prescribed by generic name in the studied health facilities (39.2% of all prescribed drugs) (Table 2).

Antibiotics accounted for 28.8% of the total number of prescribed drugs (Table 2). The maximum number of antibiotics prescribed in any prescription was 4. The lowest rate for prescribing antibiotics (26.7%) was recorded in hospitals; 66.2% of prescriptions overall contained antibiotics (Table 3). However, the highest percentage of prescriptions containing antibiotics (68.0%) was recorded in health units.

Table 2 Frequency of drugs prescribed by generic name, for antibiotics, injectable drugs and vitamins/tonics, and drugs prescribed from the national essential drugs list (EDL)

Injectable drugs accounted for 24.6% of total drugs prescribed (Table 2); the maximum number prescribed in any prescription was 5. The lowest percentage of injectable drugs (22.2%) was recorded for hospitals. Table 3 shows that 46.0% of total prescriptions contained injectable drugs, with the highest proportion (51.5%) recorded in health units.

Vitamin/tonic preparations accounted for 11.2% of the total drugs prescribed (Table 2), with the maximum number prescribed in any prescription reaching 5. These preparations were included on 23.6% of prescriptions; the highest percentage (36.9%) was recorded for health units (Table 3).

Table 3 Frequency of prescriptions for antibiotics, injectable drugs and vitamins/tonics

Table 4 Availability of local drugs information at different levels of health facility 

Drugs from the national EDL accounted for 81.2% of those prescribed (Table 2), with the highest percentage (85.5%) recorded for health units.

Health facility indicators

Copies of the national EDL were available in 35% of the studied health facilities (Table 4); 50% had the national standard treatment guidelines but none had the newsletter of the Supreme Board of Drugs and Medical Appliances.

Overall, 78.8% of essential drugs were available at the studied health facilities (Table 5). The highest rate for availability of essential drugs (91.0%) was recorded in hospitals and the lowest (51.7%) in health units.

Table 5 Availability of essential drugs at different levels of health facility


In this descriptive study, the mean number of drugs per prescription was 2.8, similar result to in the survey of Abdo-Rabbo et al. conducted in 24 health facilities from 4 different governorates in Yemen (Sana’a, Aden, Taiz and Hadramout). [10]. Polypharmacy is common in Yemen, as well as in other developing countries such as Nigeria [12,14,15]. This over-prescribing may lead to complexities in monitoring, confusion due to different instructions and risk of drug interactions and contraindications. One possible explanation for overprescribing is patient demand, i.e. patients prefer doctors who prescribe more drugs because they think this will ensure improvement and cure of their condition quickly [16].

There was a high rate of prescribing drugs by brand name (60.8%), similar to Abdo-Rabbo et al.’s previous study in Yemen (68%) [10]. It is also similar to results from a study of health units in Nepal [17]. These results may indicate a strong influence of the pharmaceutical industry on prescribers [16].

Antibiotics and injectable drugs were also overprescribed (66.2% and 46.0% of prescriptions respectively). Similar high rates were found by Abdo-Rabbo et al. (58% and 37% respectively) [10], as well as in a study in Sudan [9]. The highest rates were recorded in health units, which may be due to the lower experience of prescribing by health assistants and the absence of professional doctors. The percentage of antibiotics prescribed was high (28.8%). This is similar to previous studies in Yemen [1] and Jordan [18]. Overuse of antibiotics can lead to serious clinical problems, such as development of drug resistance, super-infection, allergies and other health hazards. The disadvantages of injections are that they are inconvenient, more expensive, less safe, painful and require skilled personnel to administer.

Vitamin/tonic preparations were frequently prescribed, as found also by Abdo-Rabbo et al. in Yemen [10]. Our field experience and observations suggest this may be due to the belief among many patients and some prescribers that they are useful to improve general health and quality of life.

We found a much higher proportion of drugs were prescribed from the national EDL in our study (81.2%) than in Abdo-Rabbo et al.’s previous Yemen survey (56%) [10]. However, there is still room for improvement: the national EDL provides prescribers with a standard list of drugs which are effective, safe, inexpensive and specific in treating important health problems in our country [19]. The availability of the national standard treatment guidelines and the Supreme Board of Drugs and Medical Appliances newsletter were 50% and 0% respectively. These results were better than those of Abdo-Rabbo et al. for the different governorates of Yemen, where the availability of national standard treatment guidelines at that time was 2%, and availability of the drugs newsletter was 0% [10]. The increase in the availability of the EDL (35%) as compared with the previous study (5%) [4] and the higher proportion of drugs prescribed from the EDL was probably due to the increased availability of essential drugs (78.8%) at health facilities compared with the above-mentioned study (47%). There was progress in the prescribing rationality and availability of essential medicines compared with previous studies conducted in Yemen.


Prescribers in all health facilities should be advised to use the generic names of drugs in prescriptions, to prescribe the lowest number of drugs needed and to avoid symptomatic treatment whenever possible. Antibiotics and injectable drugs should be prescribed with care. More effort is needed to ensure that local drug information resources such as national standard treatment guidelines and the national formulary of essential drugs are available at all health facilities.

The Ministry of Public Health and Population should supervise, monitor, and give feedback to health workers, by developing and implementing interventions about drug use in general and prescribing in particular in order to improve prescribing practices and rational use of drugs.


Wewould like to express our gratitude and appreciation to our collegue Dr Ahmed Abdo-Rabbo, Professor of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, who fully supported this study and provided input.

Our sincere thanks and gratitude go to the 10 third year medical students who assisted in collecting data: Abdulaziz Alahmadi, Khalid AlNahdi, Aws Hameed Swadi, Nasser M. Salah, Waleed Swaidan, Mohammed Bazmool,Tariq Mussaied,Omar Mattar, Nabeel BinSaleh and Adel Al-Amri. Due thanks and gratitude to collegues, staff members in the Faculty of Medicine, University of Hadramout for Science and Technology and to the Department of Community Medicine for their support.


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