There are pharmacies on most busy streets in Vietnamese cities, sometimes several. They are usually small shop fronts with a counter or window opening straight onto the street. Unusually for Vietnam, they usually have a small number of staff on duty. I say unusually, because most shops have numerous staff. A smallish bakery might have half a dozen staff serving. Pharmacies tend to have one person in a white coat and one assistant. Customers will sometimes ride straight up to the window on their motorbikes.
I was once waiting to be served in Ho Chi Minh City, when a guy on a motorbike pulled up right in front of me (queuing is not a custom in Vietnam), and asked for one condom. The girl behind the counter duly got out a packet of three, opened them up, tore off one condom from the strip, and served it to him. As a friend of mine said “not a long-term relationship then”.
The same applies to other products. You can buy a strip of paracetamol instead of the whole packet, or you can buy x days supply. They are happy to cut off the required number of pills from the blister pack or count out loose pills from a bottle.
Anyone can buy antibiotics or other medications without a prescription at these Nhà thuốc. Vietnamese public hospitals are overcrowded and of questionable quality. Vietnamese people tend to self-diagnose and self-prescribe, and often they will self-prescribe antibiotics. I recently went to a Nhà thuốc because I had a cold and wanted something to relieve my sinus congestion and sore throat. The first question was “do you want some antibiotics?”. Unsurprisingly, Vietnam has a very high incidence of antibiotic-resistant infections.
The white coated staff members may or may not have some sort of qualification. I’m guessing most do not. They are, however, almost always helpful and attentive, and will do their best to find what you are looking for or an equivalent. Google searches have been done almost every time I’ve called in. The range of drugs available is limited however. There are some drugs I have prescriptions for from Australia, that I can’t get here.
Everything is securely locked in glass cabinets, probably to prevent theft. This can mean, for non-Vietnamese speakers like me, a lengthy process of pointing to various packs on shelves “no up, left, down, right, yes that one” in order to retrieve something that may or may not be what you are looking for.
Apparently each pharmacy has to be registered to a qualified pharmacist, but there is no requirement for the staff to be qualified. The white coat probably means little. If you’re worried about drug interactions or correct dosage, you’d better check that yourself.
The pictures here are a couple of typical pharmacies, close to where I live in Danang
Copyright Mike Hopkins 2017