Pharm. Tolulope Olugbadebo Ajayi is the managing director and chief executive officer, Shekinah Specialties Limited, a retail chain pharmacy in Lagos and Ogun States, whose headquarters in Lagos was savagely attacked during the recent EndSARS protest. Ajayi, who is the Treasurer, Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria (ACPN), Lagos Chapter speaks on the challenges posed by the attack, as well as the recovery process. He also speaks on the menace of drug abuse in the country, which has worsened since the COVID-19 lockdown, and how it can be tackled.
Tell us about your outfit, Shekinah Pharmacy. What is the philosophy behind this enterprise, and where do you hope to take it in the next 10 years?
Shekinah commenced operations as a retail pharmacy outfit in August 2011, with a vision to provide high quality and cost-effective healthcare products and services that meet and exceed customer expectations. The name “Shekinah” depicts God’s revealed glory and that is embedded in the company’s slogan – promoting total health, impacting lives.
The company has grown over the years to a household pharmaceutical care outfit across six locations and hopes to further strengthen the retail chain, integrate alternative service platforms and diversify into other related aspects of practice.
Tell us about your relationship with the people of this community and the most common health conditions that bring them to your pharmacy?
As healthcare providers, we are trained and groomed to provide care to those with health challenges and promote lifestyle practices that sustain health. Common health conditions managed within the community like most others include allergies, nutritional deficiencies, malaria, infections like STDs, SSTIs, URTIs, monitoring of response to treatment of chronic conditions like diabetes, hypertension as well as medication reviews and refills, and soon.
How lucrative is community pharmacy practice in this area?
As community pharmacists, our focus is on value creation rather than profitability. The former will always deliver the latter, be it in the short term or ultimately in the long run. While the location is important to a business for ease of accessibility by stakeholders, patronage will always follow after value wherever it can be found.
How would you describe the business climate, before, during, and after the COVID-19 lockdown?
The pharmaceutical care business climate has experienced shifts from the pre-COVID days to the COVID and the post-COVID lockdown era. To start with, products that expectedly experienced a sharp rise in demand during the COVID-19 lockdown era included those with direct impact on the body immune system like zinc, selenium, vitamins C, D, E etc.
Protective products like sanitizers, hand gloves, face masks, non-contact thermometers, and disinfectants also expectedly experienced a sharp rise in demand. On the other hand, the increased demand volume for products in this category coupled with increased hurdles faced by importers, despite waivers given, led to a sharp rise in product prices.
The challenges with travel restrictions across the globe had a negative impact on importation and, by extension, product availability and quality of service delivery. The negative impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on the economy has no doubt redistributed resources and put strains on the disposable income of a larger majority, leading to higher selectivity on purchasing patterns.
On the flip side, lockdowns have drawn more attention to the possibility of doing more with fewer resources, especially via the e-platforms for service delivery, information dissemination, training, meetings, presentations etc.
One of your pharmacies was seriously affected during the EndSARS protest, how was the recovery process?
The attack occasioned by the EndSARS crisis was quite shocking and very devastating because it was on our flagship premises that also housed the corporate head office. The impact of disrupted operations was huge on cash flow, psychology of workforce etc. But all glory to God that no life was lost during the incident and we are able to come out from the experience stronger.
The recovery process involved a bold and deliberate move to rebuild while keeping the team in high spirits. We also had to quickly re-strategise and reorder priorities. Gratefully, resources came in from our Insurance Company and the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF). Welfare supports also came from the ACPN (at the zonal, state and national levels), colleagues, family, friends and many others.
The prayers and well wishes that kept flowing in from the elders of our profession and colleagues were highly encouraging, showing that indeed we are men of honour, joining hands. Thanks to God, we came out stronger.
You have been involved in pharmacy activities and politics for some time – as the deputy zonal coordinator, ACPN, KING Zone, as well as the current treasurer, ACPN, Lagos State. How would you describe your experience so far?
My leadership and political experience in Pharmacy has been quite interesting and impactful. I have been privileged to lead planning committees for state programmes like the World Pharmacists’ Day and the Pharmacy Week, with appreciable results.
Leadership, for me, will always be an opportunity to use potentials, abilities, experience and acquired skills for laudable impacts, in conjunction with others. I am working with the new ACPN-Lagos executive team, led by Pharm. Lawrence Ekhator, to further consolidate on the gains from the past administrations of Pharm. Olabanji Obideyi and Pharm. Abiola Paul-Ozieh, and our thrust is to keep empowering the pharmacist and protecting the people.
What should community pharmacists be doing to enable them to contribute more to healthcare delivery, especially at this crucial period of COVID-19?
As the most trusted and easily accessible healthcare providers in our various communities, we are to continue to provide patient health education, especially on COVID-19 preventive measures – correct the myths and misconceptions about COVID-19, encourage the public to embrace the COVID-19 vaccination, as part of preventive measures, and collaborate with other health facilities through referral of suspected cases of COVID-19 for testing and treatment.
Drug abuse has been on the increase lately, due to the lockdown. What are your thoughts on the campaign against drug misuse and abuse and how can community pharmacists help to tackle the menace?
The increased idle moments, coupled with reduced earning capacity, that is associated with the COVID-19 lockdown logically explains the rise in crime rates and drug abuse in our communities. Control of drug abuse revolves around assess control. So, to stem the tide, we must continue to advocate for passage of the Pharmacy Bill that will provide, among other things, for an ordered and regulated National Drug Distribution System. While this will not totally eradicate, it is sure to drastically reduce the menace.
Drug misuse, on the other hand, can be curtailed through increased advocacy and public enlightenment on the unique role of Pharmacists in healthcare delivery. The public needs consistent reminders on why their prescriptions are to be filled and refilled at all times from registered pharmacy premises. They are to be deliberate about interfacing with the pharmacist on duty for professional guidance, in spite of the issuance of prescriptions by physicians.
Pharmacists, as medication experts, will counsel and provide guidance on rational medication use, medication reviews for avoidable drug therapy problems (DTPs) and drug interactions – bearing in mind that drugs are not mere articles of trade.
And for the avoidance of doubt, registered pharmacy premises can be easily recognised by the original and registered pharmacy emblem, displayed licences of the superintendent pharmacist and the premises licences.