Health professionals in Ecuador have lamented the rise of self-medication in the country, which has been driven by poor public health provision and weak regulation of the prescription sector. Only a tiny percentage of the population have access to private clinics, with the effect that the retail pharmacy sector is the leading means of access to healthcare in Ecuador.

About 70% of Ecuadorians live in poverty, but some 7.5mn -- or roughly half the population -- are estimated to self-medicate on a regular basis. The trend is most accentuated among women, but there is reportedly little correlation between self-medication and income level. Health professionals have now called on the government to better regulate the pharmacy sector.

With over 2,000 small pharmacies in the capital city Quito alone, and no requirements to have a trained pharmacist on site, the retail drug trade is clearly in need of regulation. However, it is widely reported that the government is unable to enforce controls on the over-the-counter sale of powerful antibiotics and depression therapies.

Meanwhile, there are fears that the forthcoming US-Andean free trade agreement could lead to wide-ranging product withdrawals. Ecuador's drug manufacturing industry has outlined concerns that, under the FTA, some local firms could be obliged to compensate US drug firms for "unreasonable" delays in obtaining local patents.