The last 12 months of the new Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) leadership has been a period of learning about Pharmacy and its challenges and providing certain changes that will help take the pharmacy profession in the country to where it should be, Pharm. (Mazi) Sam Ohuabunwa, president, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) has said.
Speaking with Pharmanews in an exclusive interview at his office in Lagos on what he had focused on in the first year of his presidency, the PSN president said the last one year had been an opportunity to confront the major isues of Pharmacy, noting that it had also been a period of ensuring greater participation of pharmacists in the affairs of Pharmacy and that of the PSN.
Ohuabunwa further said that the greatest achievement of his first year as president of PSN was being able to mobilise support in and out of Pharmacy to shut down the National Association of Pharmaceutical Technicians & Technologists of Nigeria (NAPPTON) Bill which, he said, could have dislocated all that the PSN had been working on when the issue came to the fore early in the life of the new administration.
He stated that he was happy that that the PSN was able to rally the support of stakeholders which includes the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN) and the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) to oppose the provocative bill.
The PSN helmsman also spoke on the challenges he had had to deal with in his quest to ensure the Pharmacy Bill was signed into law by the president, noting that the PSN under his leadership will pursue the issue of the new pharmacy law to a logical conclusion during his tenure.
He also spoke on efforts of the PSN leadership to ensure the commencement of the implementation of the National Drug Distribution Guidelines (NDDG), adding that even though there have been challenges to its implementation, necessary steps are being taken to overcome them. Below is the interview.
It’s been one year since you took over the mantle of leadership as president of PSN, how would you describe these last 12 months?
Let me start by saying that it has been a period of learning. I have had the opportunity to learn a lot more about Pharmacy and its challenges. It is also a period of learning how the PSN is run internally and a period of understanding the dynamics of what we ought to be dealing with.
However, it is also a period that has enabled us to begin to provide certain changes that we need to take Pharmacy to where it should be. The first thing in this direction is ensuring greater participation of pharmacists in decision making. This is because hitherto, we had people who had the impression that the PSN and pharmacy issues were for some people. So, I’m trying to get people to know that Pharmacy is our profession and PSN belongs to us all.
No one is more of a pharmacist or has more investment in the profession than others. So, these last 12 months have also been a period of bringing in a greater involvement of pharmacists in the affairs of Pharmacy and PSN.
It has also been an opportunity for us to confront the major issues affecting Pharmacy, especially in dealing with the regulatory and legal issues we have. We have focused on the interactions and relationships between the regulatory agencies and pharmacists and Pharmacy. We have looked at opportunity to improve the output of the pharmaceutical industries, to move away from being over dependent on importation, to the point where we can reach some of the minimal targets set by the national drug law and national health policies.
It has also been a period in which we have looked into how we can reengage the government on how we can raise the status of pharmacists in the scheme of things and I believe people are embracing these ideas. For instance, for this present political dispensation, we have the largest number of pharmacists in political office and positions for the first time. We have quite a lot of pharmacists who are commissioners, secretary to the state governments (SSGs), senators, federal and state representatives and so on.
I cannot attribute all that to what we’ve done in one year, but I am happy to note that things are falling in place with the spirit we came in with. I said that we want more pharmacists in government so that we can have a better voice in government’s decisions. That was why when the nation was going into political contests last year and early this year, we were able to support and encourage our colleagues who were involved.
So, the last one year has been very active. We have also connected with our international colleagues. We connected with the FIP, pharmacists in the United Kingdom and other nations, and we are doing the peer review to improve our work and practice.
So as I said, it has been a period of learning, understanding and putting some woods in the fire, believing that as we go into our second year, the woods will flame properly.
What would you say has been the greatest achievement of your presidency in this last one year?
I think our greatest achievement has been to rally support against the National Association of Pharmaceutical Technicians and Technologists (NAPPTON) Bill. That was one of the first things I confronted when I came in and we had to rally stakeholders’ support, including that of the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN) and the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), to oppose it successfully.
This was a bill that sought to establish a new regulatory agency for pharmacy technicians and technologies. That would have completely dislocated all we had been working on. It is the most significant thing achieved in our first year, even though there were other things. The other achievement is bringing some openness to Pharmacy and PSN. The feedback I get is that people are feeling better informed about what we are doing. I’ve been to many states and have interacted with colleagues and that is the feeling I get. This may seem little but it is there.
We have also begun to make a statement that we need to raise our professional tone. We need to raise the tone of our professional practice. That is why we are going to give awards to people who have moved their practice to a higher level at the 2019 PSN conference.
There are certain things we started and explained in the Presidential Advisory Note on minimal level of practice. Some companies have raised the bar. Some have increased the number of positions in their organisations for interns. This is one of the issues we have in Pharmacy. The issue of some young pharmacists being without a place for internship for three to four years. This has stopped.
We have opened up opportunities in the private sector beyond government establishments. I have told people who can’t get internship places to get in touch with us. I have been busy with my P.A., getting internship placement opportunities for our pharmacists.
Let me also state that because of the issue we have with the PCN leadership, we have reiterated that this profession is a noble one and must be led by people who have noble character. I need to state that on principle, and for the first time, almost all the past PSN presidents signed a joint paper to make our position known regarding what we think about the leadership that we require in PCN. This had never been done before.
I have also maintained a good relationship with the regulatory agencies. Today, all the regulatory agencies and the PSN are on the same page and speaking for each other. These are some of the things we have touched since last year. We are also working on a new constitution. We already have a draft and I hope that by next year we shall have a new constitution.
There are two critical pharmacy issues that have been hanging for a while. The first is the passage of the Pharmacy Bill and getting it signed into law by the President, while the second is the implementation of the National Drug Distribution Guidelines (NDDG). What is the state of things concerning these two issues and when will they be resolved?
The Pharmacy Bill is the one that has taken some of my greatest time and attention. I had hoped I would be able to break this issue quickly but we confronted bigger opposition than I had imagined. When I came in I recruited all the forces I could find. I wanted to get it done. But then a time came when they said they couldn’t find the bill. They told us it was in the presidency; but the president’s office told us they didn’t have it – that it had been sent back to the National Assembly. We went to the National Assembly and they said they didn’t have it.
I recruited my brother who was a senator to invite all the leaders in the National Assembly in terms of administration. The clerks of the House and Senate and even clerks of the relevant committees and, eventually, it was found. But by that time, it was already late as we were out of time because May 29, the day for the handover, which was the last day for signing of bills into law, was upon us. We tried to push it. We recruited General Buba Marwa to help us push. We spoke with people in the presidency to help us. We even secured an appointment to see the president but because of his schedule, we could not see him. So, we couldn’t get it signed before May 29.
We are back to it now. We have started a new procedure and we are taking actions ahead of time to make sure that when the bill gets back to the president, it gets signed without delay. The House of Representatives is working on it right now and when they finish, we shall take it to the Senate. My thinking is that at the end of this year, the law should be back to the presidency and we shall have enough time to get the president to sign it. Everybody agrees to it; so why should it be difficult?
Another issue we have tried to push is the issue of consultancy cadre for pharmacists. I have also interacted with the head of service and the leadership of the West African Postgraduate College of Pharmacists (WAPCP). We are hoping that when the new National Council on Establishment meeting holds, the issue will be discussed and resolved. They are going to meet soon in this dispensation because the Council was dissolved after the last dispensation. So we are working on it. I believe we shall do it.
On the NDDG, I must admit that we have not made much progress. This is because as at the time I met the former minister, Prof. Adewole, on the issue, he told me we had to wait for the establishment of the Coordinated Wholesale Centres (CWC) across the nation for the implementation to start. However, based on the level of infrastructure that is on ground, I think we can start and not wait until everything is ready. We can start and then set timelines to expand it as the required infrastructure improves. We need to know that it is in the interest of our traducers that this thing is delayed as much as possible.
The NDDG concept is a very good idea and the CWC component is fundamental to it. It ensures there is regulation and enterprise and I believe it is the way to go. We shall push it. It is part of the 7-point agenda that I set for myself and I pray to God and I believe that before I finish my tenure, I would have achieved it.
I was at the 2019 FIP Conference held in Abu Dhabi and covered some of the sessions. I observed that we are still very much behind in terms of level of practice when compared to some of the countries in the world. What can we do to bridge this gap?
First, we have to change our thinking as practitioners. We have to adapt our thinking to the global best standards. Pharmacists in Nigeria need to rise and understand that the world is moving. Many are still looking back. We need to move forward. That is the first thing we need to do as pharmacists. We need to say that our practice must be like the best as it is done in the rest of the world. Once we agree on that, every other thing will be easy to deal with.
The moment we benchmark the practice based on how it is done in US, UK, UAE and other countries doing well and agree that is the way we should go, it will be easy to transplant it into our own nation while still being conscious of our level of development. That is one of the reasons we are speaking about Satellite Pharmacy, Urban Spoke Model etc. These are new concepts that can help us.
Technology is coming and we cannot stop it. We just have to adapt. That is why mindset is crucial. We must adapt our mindset to the way the world is going and flow with it, otherwise we would be where we are and be left behind.
I know we have had resistance from other stakeholders. For example, we had resistance against Pharm.D and clinical pharmacy practice. But, these resistance is being broken. What we need to do is to begin to push on all sides and levels – at state levels, technical group level and at hospital and community pharmacy levels.
Some people think the issues we have in Pharmacy can be franchised to some groups or individuals like the PSN president, NAPA president or others, but that is incorrect. Every pharmacist should be sufficiently motivated and confident to introduce changes where he is. I have said that anybody that visits a pharmacy, either in community practice or hospital, should not leave without interacting with the pharmacist. This is because they need the advice of a pharmacist before taking any medication.
If we can begin to move in that direction, we shall make progress because as we are adding value, the public and our patients will be seeing the value of pharmacists and further appreciate it. That is a challenge to us.
There have been talks for years that the Nigerian nation should have a prescription policy. How desirable is this policy and what problem (s) will it help us to solve?
Prescription policy is desirable, but everybody has to make adjustments. Having prescription is the ultimate. That is the way it ought to be. However, it would challenge everybody, including pharmacists. This is because when we get to that level, it means you can’t walk into a pharmacy and buy medicines without prescription. You can buy pharmacists’ only medicines but you can’t buy prescription medicines. That is not the practice now because of the way we have developed and evolved as a nation.
This is because some practitioners and so many other people have refused to stay in their lane; so pharmacists have also moved into other lanes. So, we need to get back to our lanes. So, we must all adjust. It is not just by saying pharmacists should go back; other people who have encroached on pharmacists’ lane must also go back. That will be good culture change which we must all begin to work on. That is the ultimate change that must be our destination.