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Health in India and the Over-the-Counter Opportunity
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Health in India and the Over-the-Counter Opportunity

No one likes to be sick, but it’s something that everyone has to deal with from time to time. Unfortunately, the frequency of certain ailments is on the rise in India, such as common colds and headaches. At the same time, consumers are becoming more inclined to battle their ailments themselves, seeking over-the-counter (OTC) remedies and medicines rather than checking in with their doctors and caregivers.

In light of shifting treatment trends for a range of common health ailments and conditions, it’s important for pharmaceutical marketers to understand the end-users of their products—the ones who have already taken the OTC route and those who are contemplating a prescription-to-OTC shift.

Incidence of Common Ailments

Overall, every second individual in India suffers from headache, fever, body ache, cough or cold at least once every six months. In looking at specific ailments, consumers in India are relatively unlikely to self-medicate for fever, even though the recommended medications for headache/body ache have the ability to reduce fever. Overall, four out of every 10 individuals experienced symptoms of cold or cough at least once in six months. Prevalence of cold was higher in the east and in children, while the tendency to self-medicate for colds was greater in the south, lower in the west.

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Ailments and Self-Medication Trends

Condition Incidence Self-Treatment with Medication
Fever Very high Low
Headache, body ache, cough and cold Very high High
Menstrual cramps, backache, joint pain, neck and shoulder pain High Moderate
Acidity, gas, indigestion, prickly heat and nasal congestion Moderate High
Sprains, burns, cracked heels, oral ulcer Low High
Abdominal pain, toothache Moderate Moderate
Skin conditions (boils, corns, rashes, allergies, eczema, acne, ringworm, pimples) sinus, sensitive tooth, bleeding gums, nicks and cuts, constipation, irregular bowel symptom, sleep loss Low Moderate
Incidence: Very high: 40-50%; High: 20%; Moderate: 10-20%; Low: 30%; Moderate: 25-30%; Low: Source: Nielsen

Self-Medication Trends by Region

Consumers are more likely to self-medicate in Chennai, Bangalore and Kolkata, while doctor consultation is more prevalent in Mumbai, Pune and Hyderabad. We also found that self-medication in combination with doctor consultation is particularly high in Delhi.

Although the incidence of fever is quite high (40-50%) across geographies, instances of self-medication are low (less than 10%). Cases of headache, body ache, cough and cold are significantly high, as is the incidence of self-medication (more than 30%).

The OTC Opportunity

A number of health issues we examined in our recent study can be categorized as lifestyle diseases, many of which are much more prevalent in metro areas. As jobs become more sedentary, we expect these ailments to become even more common.

While this is an opportunity for the health care sector, the counterculture of self-medication is making a significant impact. At this stage, drug manufacturers should approach the OTC space cautiously and with great focus. To encourage consumers to take the OTC route, pharma players will need to invest in advertising that focuses on people suffering from these common ailments and are looking for fast-acting remedies.

Companies might also consider that consumers also seek out remedies that address multiple ailments. Moreover, there are additional opportunities in the alternative therapies—an area that is becoming more popular among some consumers. Strategies for these players will likely revolve around emphasizing the lack of side effects, the long-term impact and the lifestyle benefits over their allopathic OTC counterparts.

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