Pharmacies, self-medication and pharmaceutical marketing in Bombay, India

Vinay R. Kamat, Mark Nichter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

241 Scopus citations


Studies of pharmaceutical practice have called attention to the role played by pharmacists and pharmacy attendants in fostering self-medication and medicine experimentation among the public. Left undocumented is the extent to which clients passively follow the advice of pharmacy personnel or question their motive or expertise. While research has focused on pharmacists and pharmacy attendants as agents encouraging self-medication and medicine experimentation, adequate attention has not been paid to pharmacist-client interactions that are sensitive to the social, cultural, and economic context in which medicine sales and advice occur. This paper highlights the context in which pharmacy attendants engage in 'prescribing medicines' to the public in Bombay, India. An ethnographic description of pharmacies and pharmaceutical-related behavior in Bombay is provided to demonstrate how reciprocal relationships between pharmacy owners, medicine wholesalers and pharmaceutical sales representatives (medreps) influence the actions of pharmacy staff. Attention is focused on the role of the medicine marketing and distribution system in fostering prescription practice, pharmacy 'counter-pushing' and self-medication. In documenting the profit motives of different players located on the drug sales continuum, it is argued that the economic rationale and the symbiotic relations that exist between doctors, medreps, medicine wholesalers and retailers, need to be more closely scrutinized by those advocating 'rational drug use'.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)779-794
Number of pages16
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 16 1998


  • Bombay
  • India
  • Pharmaceutical marketing
  • Pharmacies
  • Prescription
  • Self-medication

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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