Experiences of and response to the COVID-19 pandemic at private retail pharmacies in Kenya: a mixed-methods study
OBJECTIVES: To assess experiences of and response to the COVID-19 pandemic at community pharmacies in Kenya. DESIGN, SETTING AND PARTICIPANTS: This was a mixed-methods study conducted from November 2020 to April 2021, targeting service providers in three counties (Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu), selected purposively to represent the main urban centres; pharmacies were selected randomly from a list of licensed pharmacies. RESULTS: Of 195 sampled pharmacies, 108 (55%) completed a questionnaire and 103 (53%) received a simulated client call; 18 service providers were interviewed. The initial weeks of the pandemic were characterised by fear and panic among service providers and a surge in client flow. Subsequently, 65 (60%) of 108 pharmacies experienced a dip in demand to below prepandemic levels and 34 (31%) reported challenges with unavailability, high price and poor quality of products. Almost all pharmacies were actively providing preventive materials and therapies; educating clients on prevention measures; counselling anxious clients; and handling and referring suspect cases. Fifty-nine pharmacies (55% (95% CI 45% to 65%)) reported receiving a client asking for COVID-19 testing and a similar proportion stated they would support pharmacy-based testing if implemented. For treatment of simulated clients, most pharmacies (71%, 73 of 103) recommended alternative therapies and nutritional supplements such as vitamin C; the rest recommended conventional therapies such as antibiotics. While 52 (48%) of 108 pharmacies had at least one staff member trained on COVID-19, a general feeling of disconnection from the national programme prevailed. CONCLUSIONS: Private pharmacies in Kenya were actively contributing to the COVID-19 response, but more deliberate engagement, support and linkages are required. Notably, there is an urgent need to develop guidelines for pharmacy-based COVID-19 testing, a service that is clearly needed and which could greatly increase test coverage. Pharmacy-based COVID-19 programmes should be accompanied with implementation research to inform current and future pandemic responses.