December 2005

Pharmacists' knowledge and perceptions of emergency contraceptive pills in Soweto and the Johannesburg Central Business District, South Africa

Blanchard K, Harrison T, Sello M. Pharmacists' knowledge and perceptions of emergency contraceptive pills in Soweto and the Johannesburg Central Business District, South Africa. International Family Planning Perspectives. December 2005; 31(4):172-178.

CONTEXT: In South Africa, emergency contraceptive pills are available directly from pharmacies without a prescription, yet few studies have assessed pharmacists' knowledge of and attitudes toward the medication.

METHODS: In-person interviews were conducted with 34 pharmacists practicing in Soweto and the Johannesburg Central Business District, from February through April 2003. The pharmacists provided data on their knowledge of emergency contraceptive pills and their attitudes toward providing the medication to women in specific situations.

RESULTS: Nearly all pharmacists sold at least one of the two types of dedicated emergency contraceptive pills available in South Africa. Although most had accurate knowledge about the method's dosing schedule, side effects and mechanism(s) of action, more than half erroneously believed that repeated use posed health risks. A large majority of pharmacists believed the pills should be available to rape victims, to single or married women and to women who had never given birth, but almost half did not think the pills should be given to women younger than 18, and a fourth said they would not give them to women with a late menstrual period. About one-third to half of pharmacists supported advance provision of the medication under certain circumstances. Most were willing to display promotional materials on emergency contraceptives in their pharmacies.

CONCLUSIONS: Interventions aimed at educating pharmacists about the benefits of emergency contraceptive pills, especially for adolescents, are needed. Government and medical authorities should take advantage of pharmacists' willingness to display educational materials as a way to increase women's knowledge and use of the medication in South Africa.