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Any self-medication product should be safe for use.

This implies the availability of appropriate consumer information and avoidance of any delay in diagnosis and treatment of diseases not suitable for self-medication.

Unfortunately, before making out a prescription, many doctors do not enquire whether patients are also using self-medication products.

Additionally, promotional messages through the media and the Internet tend to convey a feeling of confidence in the safety of the product and often give the impression that self-medication products are just another consumer article.

Although many countries categorize medicines as either OTC or prescription-only, research data indicate that sale of self-prescription products (i.e.

buying prescription-only drugs without a prescription) is far more common than sale of OTC drugs.

There are several critical issues involved before deciding if drugs should be authorized for self-medication.

However, there is no doubt that in the future self-prescription product sales through the Internet will increase enormously.

Of equal concern is the fact that, in many countries, although OTC medicines are provided with a patient information leaflet the self-prescriber does not receive any information whatsoever on how to use a prescription medicine.

Interestingly, it is the increase in competitive promotion of self-medication products which has enhanced consumer and patient awareness of the availability of products.

* Based on a presentation given by Dr Lembit Rägo, Coordinator, Quality Assurance and Safety: Medicines, World Health Organization, Geneva, to the First Latin American World Self-Medication Industry (WSMI) Conference: "Recognizing and Developing the Vital Role of Responsible Self-medication in Latin America", 29-31 March 2000.

It is widely accepted that self-medication has an important role to play in health care and, with the continued improvement in people's education, general knowledge and socio-economic status, self-medication has been successfully integrated into many health care systems throughout the world.

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