Pharm. (Dr) Albert Kelong Alkali is the national chairman of the Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria (ACPN). In this exclusive interview with Pharmanews, the soft-spoken pharmacist speaks on the experiences of community pharmacists in the country, as well as the efforts put in place by his administration to render necessary support. He also expresses his fears regarding the introduction of retail chain pharmacy practice into the Nigerian drug market. Excerpts:
Could you tell us some of your achievements and challenges since you took over the mantle of leadership of ACPN?
Since we took over, we have been able to redesign the association’s website and it is still being upgraded to meet the information needs of our members and the general public. We have paid advocacy visits to some pharmaceutical companies like Worldwide Commercial Ventures (WWCV), GSK, Biofem, Greenlife and there are still more to be visited. We have also visited the registrar and management staff of the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN), the executive secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), as well as the director general and the head of Pharmacovigillance of NAFDAC.
We have also visited and are still visiting some elders to seek their cooperation and support. We have secured some BNF to be distributed to states to enhance drug information and counselling by members. We are currently drafting a proposal with the Bank of Industry (BOI), other health care providers and commercial banks to the federal government for a Health Sector Intervention Fund.
The major challenge I faced immediately I took over was the issue of National Drug Distribution Guidelines and the unacceptable retail chain concept. These challenges are being handled and I have confidence that we will come out strong at the end of the day.
You have been a community pharmacist for years, at what point did you decide to go for ACPN chairmanship and what prompted the decision?
I have been an active participant in ACPN and PSN activities in the FCT and at the national level for years now. I was once ACPN Abuja vice chairman and later chairman; and I was also chairman of PSN Abuja Pharmacy week 2012 Planning Committee.
I was elected national vice chairman, ACPN in 2012 and national chairman in 2015. What prompted me to aspire for all these leadership roles was the need to make my modest contributions to the development of ACPN and the pharmacy profession.
What is your assessment of community pharmacy practice in this country?
My assessment of community pharmacy practice in this country is that we have a long way to go. Community pharmacy practice thrives in a highly regulated and sanitised environment; but in Nigeria we still need more from our regulatory agencies, although I must appreciate some laudable actions of the registrar of the PCN. Still there is more to be done, as there are still many illegal premises and people selling pharmaceuticals on the roads and buses.
What would you say are the greatest challenges facing community pharmacists in Nigeria at the moment?
The greatest challenges facing community pharmacists in Nigeria presently are the poor practice environment, chaotic drug distribution and lack of government’s appreciation and recognition for the health services being rendered by community pharmacy practitioners in Nigeria. In Australia, the government in a year spends more than $600 million as part of the budget for community pharmacy practitioners to improve access to pharmaceutical services by its citizens.
The chain-pharmacy concept is becoming more popular and common. As the ACPN national chairman, how do you see this development?
My take on chain pharmacy is that the practice should dwell more on encouraging good pharmacy practice (GMP) as stipulated by the World Health Organisation (WHO), rather than being seen as ordinary trading with the sole aim of making money.
Also, in line with our existing status, community pharmacy practice has a lot to give to the improvement of our health services because we do a lot of health promotions, prevention (which could come in form of immunisations, counselling, medication reviews , monitoring and treatment of minors for important diseases like malaria, Flu, diarrhoea, just to mention a few).
However, chain pharmacy concept that has to do with mainly trading by foreign concerns, who are only interested in changing our laws to turn the practice to trading of imported commodities, is definitely not in the interest of the Nigerians. I will therefore use this opportunity to call on the government to increase the involvement of community pharmacy practitioners in programmes, policy formulations and in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
What grey areas in the profession do you think stakeholders should address urgently?
The grey areas that I will like stakeholders to address are areas like the participation of the pharmacists in the health sector as regards policy formulations, our practice environment, National Health Insurance Scheme, and the full integration of clinical pharmacy practitioners in our health institutions because some institutions do not allow pharmacists access to case notes.
What is your general view of the current state of the health care sector?
The current state of the health care sector in the country is not encouraging enough. A situation where there is rivalry among the health care providers leaves the patient in a helpless situation. No wonder a lot of people seek help outside the shores of our country. Government must as a matter of urgent importance address this issue, if we are to have a health care sector that will take care of the health needs of Nigerians.
You were at the FIP in Luxembourg, Germany. What would you say is the contribution of the programme to the development of pharmacy profession in Nigeria?
The contribution of FIP conferences to the development of Pharmacy profession in Nigeria is quite enormous. A very good example was the recently concluded one in Luxembourg, Germany, as there were many plenaries sessions that had to do with pharmacy practice and regulations; as well as the sharing of experiences of the practitioners from various countries.
Some examples of what we learnt at the plenaries were: evidence-based practice skills, Pharmacogenomics, patient-centered pharmacy practice (rather than mere buying and selling), medicine optimisation and interprofessional and transformative pharmacy.