Hesperian Health Guides

How to use the green pages

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HealthWiki > A Health Handbook for Women with Disabilities > How to use the green pages

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This section gives information about the modern medicines mentioned in the book. If you want to use traditional medicines, ask a traditional healer where you live to help you find remedies that may work for your problem. Traditional medicines vary a lot from one place to another, so a remedy used in one place may not be available or may not work anywhere else.

How to take medicines safely

Use medicines only when they are needed

Many people believe that if they do not receive medicines when they are sick, they will not get well. This is not true. Some problems, like colds, are best cured by time and rest. Other problems are best solved by eating enough good foods and drinking clean water. Be suspicious of health workers who always want you to take more and different medicines.

Take the full course of medicines

Even if you begin to feel better, continue to take the medicines for as long as recommended. Sometimes, taking less than the full amount can allow the sickness to return. It may even cause drug resistance, which means that the same drugs will no longer work against the illness.

Do not take too much

Taking more than the recommended amount will not make you well faster, and it will probably make you even more sick.

Know and watch for signs of problems

Some medicines can have harmful side effects or cause allergic reactions that can be very dangerous.

Learn as much as you can about a medicine

Ask a health worker or a pharmacist about the medicines you take or other medicines you may need. You can also find information in the Green Pages in this and other Hesperian books (such as Where Women Have No Doctor and Where There Is No Doctor).

Medicines by mouth (tablets, capsules) are usually safer than injections

In this book, we suggest medicines to be taken by mouth. Only if they cannot be taken by mouth do we give information about medicines that must be injected. If you need an injection, see a health worker. Information on how to inject safely can be found in Where Women Have No Doctor.

Single medicines are safer and less expensive than combined medicines

But some medicines, especially those for HIV/AIDS, are easier to take in combination.


  • If possible, take medicines while standing or sitting up. Also, try to drink a glass of liquid each time you take a medicine.
  • If you vomit and can see the medicine in the vomit, you will need to take the medicine again.
  • If you vomit within 3 hours after taking a birth-control pill, take another one to make sure you will not get pregnant.

Taking other medicines together with your disability medicines

If you take medicine regularly for your disability, it may not combine well with some of the medicines listed in this book. Other medicine may make your disability medicine not work as well, or your disability medicine may change how the other medicine works. For example, if you take phenytoin for epilepsy, you should not use birth control pills that contain both estrogen and progestin because your seizures may become worse. Talk with an experienced health worker or pharmacist to find out if your regular medicines will interact with any new ones you must take, and if so, what other medicines you might take instead.

Luckily, not every medicine listed in this book has interactions. For the few medicines that do have interactions, you will find the information listed for each medicine under the heading ‘Interactions with other medicines’ with this symbol:

2 hands holding 2 different medicine bottles.


Some people are allergic to certain medicines. When a person is given that
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medicine, her body has a reaction. The reaction may be uncomfortable (such as skin rash, itching skin or eyes, swelling of the lips or face, wheezing), or it may be very serious and endanger her life (such as pale, cold or sweaty skin; weak or rapid pulse or heartbeat; difficulty breathing; low blood pressure; or loss of consciousness).

If a person goes into allergic shock, she needs medical help immediately. Give epinephrine.

Do not take a medicine you are allergic to and do not take other medicines from the same family. (See information about antibiotics).

Medicine names

a bottle labeled with the words 'Flagyl' and 'metronidazole'.
brand name
generic name

Medicines usually have 2 names. The generic (or scientific) name is the same all over the world. Some companies that make medicines give each medicine they make a brand name. The same medicine made by 2 different companies will have 2 different brand names. In this book we use generic names. You may substitute one medicine for another if the generic names are the same—any brand will do. Some brands cost less than others.

How much medicine to give

Most tablets, capsules, inserts, and injectable medicines are measured in grams (g), milligrams (mg), micrograms (mcg), or Units (U):

1000 mg = 1 g (one thousand milligrams is the same as one gram)
1 mg = 0.001 g (one milligram is one one-thousandth part of a gram)

Some medicines, such as birth control pills, are weighed in micrograms (mcg or ucg):

1 ucg = 1 mcg = 1/1000 mg = 0.001 mg
This means there are 1000 micrograms in a milligram.

Injectable medicines may be measured in Units (U) or International Units (IU).

Forms of medicines

Medicines come in different forms, and in this book we use pictures to show how a medicine should be given:

a hand holding a syringe.
Inject medicines when we show this picture.
2 pills in the palm of a hand.
Take tablets, pills, capsules, or inserts when we show this picture.
ointment coming out of a tube.
Use ointment or cream when we show this picture.
a medicine dropper.
Use drops when we show this picture.
a spoonful of liquid.
Use syrup when we show this picture.

Usually, it is best to give medicines by mouth to avoid the risks of injections. But in an emergency, injecting the medicine may be better because it will make it work more quickly.

a pregnant woman and a woman breastfeeding a baby.

WARNING! These pictures appear with the word WARNING when pregnant women or women who are breastfeeding need to take special care.

Kinds of medicine

There are several different kinds of medicine listed in this book. One group of medicines, antibiotics, needs explanation as a group.


Antibiotics are used to fight infections caused by bacteria. Antibiotics do not cure illnesses caused by viruses, such as colds, hepatitis, or HIV/AIDS. Antibiotics that are similar to each other are said to come from the same family. Antibiotics from the same family can often treat the same problems. So if you cannot get one antibiotic, another one from the same family may work instead. If you are allergic to one antibiotic, you will probably be allergic to other antibiotics in the same family, so do not take any antibiotics from that family.

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Here is a list of some antibiotics and their families:

Penicillins: amoxicillin, ampicillin, benzathine penicillin, benzylpenicillin, dicloxacillin, procaine penicillin, and others

Macrolides: azithromycin, erythromycin, and others

Tetracyclines: doxycycline, tetracycline

Sulfas (sulfonamides): sulfamethoxazole (part of cotrimoxazole), and others

Aminoglycosides: gentamicin, streptomycin, and others

Cephalosporins: cefixime, cephalexin, and others
Antibiotics are used much too often. Use antibiotics only when necessary and use them safely.