A unique feature of the recently concluded 91st annual national conference of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), tagged “Oluyole 2018”, was the election of executives into the various offices of the Society. This feature has made the conference one of the most memorable and impactful in recent years.
The presidential election, in particular, generated a lot of interests, anxieties, participation and palpable fear because it was the first time in 12 years that pharmacists would have the opportunity to be involved in the choice of a president for the Society. Within this period, the society has witnessed many structural changes, including the emergence of the Young Pharmacists Group (YPG) which has grown rapidly in number and influence. Today, it has become the chief mobiliser of youths in Pharmacy and a respected asset of the PSN.
As a presidential candidate, I had a series of encounter with the YPG, which touched on the current travails and the future of the profession in Nigeria. The presidential campaign itself was long-drawn, intense, stressful, combative and resource-gulping, but the YPG encounter provided a refreshing flavour for me as a man with passion for a better practice.
We will write a comprehensive account of the events of the presidential contest, the roles of various individuals and institutions, as well as the outcome, at the appropriate time; but the issues of YPG interest cannot wait for the election chronicle because of the urgency and importance attached to their resolution.
I hold a position that the past cannot be changed but the future is within our power and reach to influence. And this future belongs to those who believe in their dreams. The YPG is the future of the pharmacy profession and I am passionately and irrevocably committed to working with like-minds to take Pharmacy to a greater height.
The past and present experiences are defined by unpleasant features, dashed hopes and an uncertain future. However, we can make things better by taking our destiny in our hands and live above the environmental limitation to deliver value to ourselves and the society. My answers to the YPG questions are summarised here for review, record-keeping and further action. I have taken the liberty to forward the manuscript to Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa even though I am aware of a similar encounter with other presidential candidates.
During the interaction, I could perceive the energy, momentum, expectations and anxieties – all pointing to what I have always known: that Pharmacy is composed of great minds, men and women with very high potentials, that need to be given kinetic expression in this environment.
I have summarised the issues into 15 points with my response to each.
Pharmacy regulation, PEP, Satellite Pharmacy and the new Pharmacy law.
There was a general expression of discontent with the professional examination (PEP) in contents, cost and value. They cannot see the justification for a scheme that has not added value and they want it scrapped, or the cost reduced to make it more affordable. I promised to liaise with the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN) to review issues around the examination and the applicable fees, and work on a win-win situation. I cannot possibly justify something that I did not set up or initiate but we will engage all the stakeholders (academia, YPG, PCN, etc) to evolve the best way forward with a focus on value addition to all the parties involved, including the profession.
However, I know that pre-registration examination is a best practice in Pharmacy either in Europe or America. I think the issue is about our peculiar environment which require domestication of whatever we are importing from other climes. The emphasis must always be on value addition and we will ask the hard questions on the value of the PEP, MCPD and others. It must always be to make the practitioners better, we have done enough of basic courses in school and further examination must deal with the application of knowledge.
The satellite pharmacy is a good concept which will help us to stretch the 8000 active pharmacists to serve 180 million Nigerians; it will provide opportunity for colleagues who are not in ACPN and connect pharmacy more to the public and the social enterprise community.
Internship placement and paucity of gainful employment opportunities
The complaints here are numerous but the solution lies in our creative ability to create more opportunities for internship and post-NYSC employment. No one should be roaming the street looking for internship placement. We must pursue what is immediately under our control, i.e. getting an internship facility for each graduate/year by working with PCN, relevant bodies and agencies, as well as individuals, to achieve this aim.
With advocacy and appropriate push efforts, we should be able to achieve central internship placement. The situation now is critical, and we must not rest until it is corrected. We must not allow young pharmacists to take up jobs that do not offer opportunity to develop competencies, skills and knowledge (CSK). CSK is needed to increase the market value and net worth of the individual.
Poor remuneration, lack of recognition and career advancement opportunities
Young pharmacists are not properly remunerated, particularly in the private sector, and YPG demands action from PSN on this. We cannot possibly legislate on how much an employer will pay his employees, but we can change our circumstances to attract higher pay for our services.
We can set up an employment bureau to interface between young (and old) pharmacists and their would-be employers. We can repackage the pharmacist as the principal factor in pharmaceutical establishments. We can set up institutions to bridge the gap between training and practice. Young pharmacists must be encouraged to acquire skills and competencies to increase their market value and therefore, higher remuneration. The employment bureau will allow us to standardise things with minimum benchmarks.
The unorganised drug distribution system in Nigeria has made Pharmacy unattractive and without appropriate recognition. It is an old problem which will require firm but careful handling. All the stakeholders must be involved in the solution desired. It will be mere wishful thinking to expect that all the traders will just disappear at once. Rather, we should push for a situation where everybody involved in drug business will be under regulatory control.
Dominance of the health sector by the doctors
The Doctors’ monopolisation of health administration in Nigeria is driven by ego, which is essentially an African tragedy. Our best approach will be through high level advocacy that will give pharmacists the right space to operate, just like Prof. Olikoye Ransome-Kuti did for the doctors. We must find the key that will open this ancient door. We must continue to reach out to doctors for collaboration.
We must defend Pharmacy with all legal means possible and reach out to the international community for help. The issue of private hospitals stocking drugs without employing pharmacists is an enforcement issue. The law provides for PCN to register all premises where drugs are kept, sold or dispensed. However, there is a part of our law which allows doctors to keep drugs for their immediate use. I think we may need to seek the interpretation of these laws in the court if necessary.
Recognition for and sponsorship of YPG activities including entrepreneurship
YPG has come to stay as an interest group of the PSN. We must align with the social enterprise community for partnership and funding of the YPG activities. We should also explore the traditional channels for the same purpose. We must encourage YPG members to set up their own businesses including small scale manufacturing. We can also work with in-house experts to do a scalable plan which can be used by individuals or cooperative to secure funding.