Pharm. N.A.E. Mohammed is the registrar of the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN). In this exclusive interview with Pharmanews, he reveals why the attempt by the National Association of Pharmaceutical Technologists and Pharmacy Technicians (NAPPTON) to turn itself to a regulatory agency through the push for the NAPPTON Bill was a misstep that could have brought chaos to pharmacy regulation in Nigeria.
He also speaks on how the PCN worked with the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) and its technical arms, the Federal Ministry of Health, the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) and other stakeholders, to quash the controversial Bill, noting that the collective efforts of the healthcare professionals has further confirmed the long-held view that when all professionals in the health sector collaborate and work in harmony, they can solve most of the problems facing the health sector and reposition healthcare delivery for the benefit of Nigerians.
A major issue that faced Pharmacy in the last one year was the attempt by pharmacy technicians/pharmaceutical technologists to get own regulatory agency through their push for the NAPPTON Bill. What were your first thoughts when you learnt about the Bill and now that the idea has been quashed, what are the lessons to be learnt from that incident?
There is no doubt that the attempt by the members of the National Association of Pharmaceutical Technologists and Pharmacy Technicians (NAPPTON) to turn the association to a regulatory agency to regulate their members through the National Assembly was nothing but a misnomer. It was rightly so, because all over the world, members of the sub-cadres of the pharmacy profession are regulated exclusively by the Pharmacy Council of each country.
To me, the first thought that came to mind about the Bill was that, I saw it as an attempt by self-seeking individuals to introduce chaos into pharmacy regulation in Nigeria, the type that never exists anywhere in the world, and which had the tendency to compromise the safety of the medicine-consuming public, thereby further jeopardising public health. The overall effect of it would have been a negative impact on the already weak health system of the nation.
With all these in mind, the PCN worked assiduously towards the public hearing on the Bill by the National Assembly in December, 2018. The overwhelming facts and evidences presented by the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH), Federal Ministry of Justice (FMoJ), PCN, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), Nigeria Law Reform Commission (NLRC), African Pharmaceutical Forum (APF), non-governmental organisations, PSN technical groups, and other well-meaning Nigerians at the public hearing against the Bill were unprecedented. At the end, the National Assembly quashed the Bill and the rest is history.
However, the lessons learnt in the end are that the PCN did a post mortem to understand the immediate and remote factors that led to the initiation of the Bill and thereafter designed strategies to prevent future occurrence.
Another very important aspect was the collaboration displayed by the pharmacy community (PCN, PSN, technical groups, with support from elders of the profession and every pharmacist), and the NMA reveals that, collectively, we have what it takes to reposition healthcare delivery for the benefit of the Nigerian public.
Similarly, the support of the Federal Ministry of Justice, NLRC, NGOs and well-meaning Nigerians clearly shows that Nigeria is not a lawless country.
Another lesson learnt is that those institutions and individuals who are defrauding innocent Nigerians and making them to believe that there is a profession out there for them and making them pay so much money for courses that have no bearing and relevance in the scheme of things in the Nigerian pharmaceutical landscape and indeed the health sector should stop these nefarious activities.
However, for those of them who have realised that they had been deceived all along to believe that there is a profession for them to practise upon their graduation, PCN has put in place a rehabilitation programme for them.
Two major issues which I know are dear to you and crucial to the transformation of pharmacy practice in the country are hanging. They are the Pharmacy Bill and the implementation of the National Drug Distribution Guidelines (NDDG). What are your thoughts on this delay and how hopeful are you that these goals will eventually be achieved?
The twin issues of the new Pharmacy Council Bill awaiting Presidential assent and full implementation of the National Drug Distribution Guidelines (NDDG) are germane to effective regulation of the pharmaceutical sector of the economy.
Let me assure the pharmacy community that PCN is taking all necessary steps towards ensuring that the Bill goes through the remaining stages of legislative adoption and assent by the President in earnest.
The key factor in the implementation of the NDDG is the relocation of the open drug markets to Coordinated Wholesale Centres (CWC) and subsequent closure of the open drug markets. The journey towards achieving this task is very much on course, irrespective of certain political/administrative encumbrances being experienced by the stakeholders in various states. However, despite the challenges being currently experienced, I am very optimistic that we shall achieve full implementation of the NDDG and ultimately the closure of all open drug markets.
We have in recent years seen a lot of upward momentum in pharmacy training as we now have more schools of pharmacy, thus improving on access to pharmacy education to Nigerians who desire it. However, there is still a lot of ground to cover to improve our pharmacists/patient ratio. What measures are you taking not just to consolidate on successes recorded so far but to strategically plan for the future?
According to the Nigeria Health Workforce Registry, published by the Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH) in 2018, the country’s profile in accordance with sub-Saharan standard is 10 pharmacists per 100,000 population. This is grossly inadequate if we must guarantee access to medicines that are qualitative, safe and effective medicines to majority of the citizen from regulated facilities. Closely related to this is lopsided distribution between south and north and urban versus rural communities
However, the concept of Satellite Pharmacies and Hub and Spoke models are the strategies being put in place to address these gaps and improve access to quality, safe and effective medicines by majority of Nigerians from regulated pharmaceutical premises.
A major issue young pharmacists have had to contend with is the issue of places of internship. I know a lot has been done to address this issue, but what proactive measures should we be taking as a nation to avoid this type of issue?
The implementation of the central placement for internship by the federal government, as proposed by the PCN, in the memo to the immediate past Honourable Minister of Health, is the ultimate step to effectively deal with the problem of difficulty of securing internship placement by young pharmacists.
Let me also add that the PCN has been able move her intern intake from below ten interns before 2014 to 65 presently. We hope to increase this number from time to time. In addition, PCN has stepped up accreditation exercise of internship centres in public and private facilities to create more spaces for uptake of interns.
What is the next level in the implementation of your strategic agenda for PCN and pharmacists?
The next level in the implementation of my strategic agenda for PCN and pharmacists is to consolidate on the successes of my first tenure.
This effort has started in earnest and shall be vigorously pursued. Great attention shall be given to sanitising the practice environment through the strengthening of enforcement activities; as well as ensuring experiential teaching and learning at the undergraduate training of pharmacists to prepare them for the current practice environment.
I will continue to promote the use of ICT in our regulatory processes to facilitate interface of stakeholders with the Council. This includes redesigning of our website to make it more functional and informative; GIS mapping of pharmaceutical facilities to facilitate decision-making in inspectorate activities; and deployment of Computer Based Test (CBT) for PEP examinations, among others.
PCN will pursue the implementation of the recommendations of the organisational capacity assessment undertaken by HOWES Consulting Firm, which was sponsored by IntegratE project.
In line with this, a new strategic plan shall also be put in place for PCN to serve as roadmap for the organisation. The commencement of PharmD programme by all the accredited faculties of pharmacy will be given topmost priority. So also will be discipline among professionals. We will also ensure enforcement of rules and regulations, while to promoting “New Partnership for Progress Initiatives” which in turn will promote good working relationship between PCN and all stakeholders in the pharmaceutical landscape.