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Open Access Research article

Perspectives on reasons for non-adherence to medication in persons with schizophrenia in Ethiopia: a qualitative study of patients, caregivers and health workers

Solomon Teferra1*, Charlotte Hanlon13, Teferra Beyero1, Lars Jacobsson2 and Teshome Shibre1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, College of Health Sciences, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

2 Division of Psychiatry, Department of Clinical Sciences, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden

3 Centre for Global Mental Health, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, London, UK

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BMC Psychiatry 2013, 13:168  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-13-168

Published: 17 June 2013



Levels of non-adherence to antipsychotic medication in persons with schizophrenia in rural African settings have been shown to be comparable to those found in high-income countries. Improved understanding of the underlying reasons will help to inform intervention strategies relevant to the context.


A qualitative study was conducted among persons with schizophrenia (n = 24), their caregivers (n = 19), research field workers (n = 7) and health workers (n = 1) involved in the ongoing population-based cohort study, ‘The Butajira Study on Course and Outcome of Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder’, based in rural Ethiopia. Six focus group discussions and 9 in-depth interviews were conducted to elicit perspectives on non-adherence to antipsychotic medication. Thematic analysis was used to identify prominent perspectives.


Predominant reasons for non-adherence specific to a low-income country setting included inadequate availability of food to counter appetite stimulation and the perceived strength of antipsychotic medications. The vital role of the family or other social support in the absence of a statutory social safety net was emphasised. Expectations of cure, rather than need for continuing care, were reported to contribute to non-adherence in the longer-term.

Many of the factors associated with non-adherence in high-income countries were also considered important in Ethiopia, including lack of insight, failure to improve with treatment, medication side effects, substance abuse, stigma and dissatisfaction with the attitude of the care provider.


This study identifies additional barriers to medication adherence faced by persons with schizophrenia in Ethiopia compared to those in high-income countries. In this era of scaling up of mental health care, greater attention to provision of social and financial assistance will potentially improve adherence and thereby enable patients to benefit more fully from medication.

Adherence; Antipsychotic; Ethiopia; Medication; Qualitative; Schizophrenia