CERTAIN medicine will soon be available in Portuguese shops following an early decision from the incoming Socialist government.
Non-prescribed medicines are already freely available in supermarkets in countries such as the US, Germany, Holland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Britain. In Portugal, however, such items can only be purchased in pharmacies. Even baby milk and condoms were only available in pharmacies until a few years ago.
António Rousseau, Secretary-General of the Portuguese Association of Distributors, says chemists have had a vested interest in keeping a monopoly of supply. “Pharmacies scared people by launching a campaign saying that these products should not be sold freely because they are not potatoes.
But what exactly is the danger? As a matter of fact, in the interests of public health, condoms should be freely accessible to everyone,” he says. “By the same token, healthy people who have a headache buy painkillers. People who have a cough buy syrup. If they can do this in the pharmacy, then I don’t understand why they can’t access such items in a commercial establishment,” he adds.
An internal poll established that the overwhelming majority of doctors (86 per cent) back the liberalisation of sales outside pharmacies. Luís Pisco, from the Portuguese Association of General Practitioners, stresses that the wide variety of non-prescribed medicines already available in chemists, notably cough syrups and painkillers, are perfectly safe. The Portuguese Order of Doctors and consumer organisation DECO also supported the measure.
Opposition came only from the National Association of Pharmacies who said that medicines could not be compared to other commercial goods. The association believes that the sale of these items in retail outlets could endanger health and notes findings from a British study that point to an alleged correlation between the sale of medicine in supermarkets and suicide attempts.