Our team had planned supervisory visit last week to patent medicine vendors (PMVs) where shop owners have been taught the correct management of childhood illnesses. Our experience one particular shop pulled together so many lessons about training and supervision, and we are sharing this here. In the first shop we visited that day we found a boy aged 12 behind the counter. I took on the role of a mystery client, and mentioned some symptoms to the boy. “My 5-year old son is at home with catarrh. His nose is really running and his breathing is fast. What do you recommend I give him?”
The boy mentioned a local brand of antihistamine. I asked if there was anything else we should do, and the boy said that should work fine.
Next I said my two-year old daughter was also unwell. She was having fever, shivers with aches and pains. Did he have any suggestions for her? His prompt answer was “Ampiclox.”
I then asked him where the owner of the shop was. He said, “Oh my father has traveled.” I asked what class the boy was in school, to which he said the first class of junior secondary school.
Word of our visit must have spread in the area, because then a woman rushed in who it turned out to be the boy’s mother and asked how she could help us.
We explained that we were from the Ministry and were going around to help medicine shop owners improve the quality of their services. The mother happily reported that she had received training “in malaria and those other small small diseases of pickin,” from the Minsirty fo health and again from a NGO.
I went back to case of the child with a respiratory infection and pointed out the breath counting beads on the table. She said it was her husband who had done the training where the beads were explained but never taught her how to use them. We then spent some time explaining to the mother and her son about the beads and demonstrated how to use them, and also explained about management of fever.
Finally I asked the mother why she was not in the shop since her husband had traveled. She said she was in the kitchen preparing lunch for the children, and as the oldest, the 12-year old was assumed capable of running the shop. We encouraged her to discuss as a family how they could share what they have learned about managing child illness and always ensure that a competent person is available in the shop.
Training of PMVs is not a simple matter. The person trained may not always be in the shop nor share what he/she learned with other salespeople. Supervision is necessary in order to reinforce what was learned during training and provides an opportunity to teach others on-the-job. PMVs provide a large portion of the services in many African communities, and we must ensure that they can focus on quality.