Background: In recent years an increasing number of public investments and policy changes have been made to improve the availability, affordability and quality of medicines available to consumers in developing countries, including anti-malarials. It is important to monitor the extent to which these interventions are successful in achieving their aims using quantitative data on the supply side of the market. There are a number of challenges related to studying supply, including outlet sampling, gaining provider cooperation and collecting accurate data on medicines. This paper provides guidance on key steps to address these issues when conducting a medicine outlet survey in a developing country context. While the basic principles of good survey design and implementation are important for all surveys, there are a set of specific issues that should be considered when conducting a medicine outlet survey.
Methods: This paper draws on the authors’ experience of designing and implementing outlet surveys, including the lessons learnt from ACTwatch outlet surveys on anti-malarial retail supply, and other key studies in the field. Key lessons and points of debate are distilled around the following areas: selecting a sample of outlets; techniques for collecting and analysing data on medicine availability, price and sales volumes; and methods for ensuring high quality data in general.
Results and conclusions: The authors first consider the inclusion criteria for outlets, contrasting comprehensive versus more focused approaches. Methods for developing a reliable sampling frame of outlets are then presented, including use of existing lists, key informants and an outlet census. Specific issues in the collection of data on medicine prices and sales volumes are discussed; and approaches for generating comparable price and sales volume data across products using the adult equivalent treatment dose (AETD) are explored. The paper concludes with advice on practical considerations, including questionnaire design, field worker training, and data collection. Survey materials developed by ACTwatch for investigating anti-malarial markets in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia provide a helpful resource for future studies in this area.