In this incisive interview, Pharm. Ambrose Sunday Eze, national secretary, Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria (ACPN), and managing director, Rosemus Pharmacy Limited, a chain pharmacy outlet in Apapa and its environs, reminisces on his beginnings as a young pharmacy entrepreneur and the various obstacles he surmounted. The 2005 pharmacy graduate of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State, also discusses the state of community pharmacy practice in Nigeria, the challenges posed by drug vendors, the continued inter-professional wrangling in the health sector, as well as his various contributions to the ACPN. Excerpts:
You established your community pharmacy immediately after your Youth Service programme. Tell us how it started.
After I finished my youth service in March 2008, at the Jericho Hospital, Ibadan, Oyo State, I came back to Lagos immediately. As a young pharmacist, a lot of opportunities were presenting themselves, but eventually, I settled for community practice and by November 2008, the Rosemus Pharmacy was established, here in Olodi Apapa.
As a young pharmacist, what challenges did you face at inception?
The major challenge I had as a beginner then was finance and I approached one of my brothers for financial assistance. Although he was willing and promised to help, he couldn’t come up with the expected amount; but he assisted in paying for the first rent of this premises. After then, I took the cross by myself and gathered all the money saved during my youth service, which amounted to about 600,000 naira, and I started what is today known as Rosemus Pharmacy.
After establishing the pharmacy, the Local Government Council officials started disturbing us with series of levies. The Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN) also came and shut the pharmacy down for not complying with the approved 200 meters gap from an existing pharmacy; but we overcame that after showing the approval they gave for the premises. The panel was faced and penalties were awarded, and the pharmacy was reopened in December 2008. Since then, we have established two other branches in Apapa, and God has been helping us.
At what point did you decide to be actively involved in the ACPN and pharmacy politics generally, and what prompted the decision?
I started identifying myself with my zonal chapter, Ajeromi/Ifelodun Zone, and the likes of Pharm. Jerome Nwokoro, Pharm. Iyiola Gbolagade, and many others who saw me as a young guy with great potentials accepted me and encouraged me. That was how I became an active member in pharmacy affairs at the zonal level and later became the financial secretary, ACPN, Ajegunle/Ifelodun Zone.
Thereafter, I joined at the state level and became a member of several committees. These included the pharmacy week committee, ACPN Continuing Education Committee, and several others.
At the national level, I have been a member of the conference planning committee (CPC) for some conferences, before I became the national treasurer, ACPN at the Edo ACPN Conference in 2018. I emerged the national secretary, ACPN, at the Abuja 2020 national conference.
You were the ACPN national treasurer for two years, as well as holding several other elected positions, including being the current national secretary. How would you describe your experience so far?
Having gone through zonal politics, state politics and at the national stage, I would say I have gathered a lot of experience. I have met a lot of people and I have been to places. This has further equipped me and broadened my knowledge, as well as developing me on this job. I have interacted with lots of our elders, who are the people that I see as my role models, and through my interactions with them and others – both at the state and national levels – I have come to realise that the best gift to humanity is service.
As the national treasurer, I did my best. When I came on board, I brought the idea of budgeting, which was the first time in the history of the association. And when the chairman, Dr Samuel Adekola, saw the idea, being a man of wisdom himself, he bought into it. When it was presented to the National Executive Council, it was approved; and that was how we started having a budget at the beginning of every year.
Moreover, due to my background and discipline when it comes to finances, I also brought the idea that before any money was spent, there must be a “claim”, showing what the money was intended for, and must be documented for future purposes. That has been the practice since then.
What do you think contributed to your emergence as the ACPN national secretary?
Just like I said earlier, part of the reasons many considered me to be their choice candidate at the Abuja Conference was because of my experience, commitment, dedication and perseverance. I have been part and parcel of the ACPN and the PSN at the zonal, state, and national levels, and there is nothing anyone would say about those arms that I don’t know. So these and many more that I may not know of are part of the reasons many considered me.
Also, if you would recall, I had contested as the national secretary of the PSN at one time, and I lost because of some reasons best known to the voters. So, when the opportunity came in Abuja, many felt I had paid my dues.
How has it been combining your duties as a community pharmacist with your responsibilities as the national secretary?
It has not been easy combining the two and that is one of the reasons the panel usually asks when people are contesting for any position, “How do you intend to cope?” To be candid, it is usually challenging. But for someone like me, I am passionate about my responsibilities; so I had factored those lapses in. That was the reason I employed trained pharmacists for all my outlets, so that whenever I am not around, the vacuum would be filled.
When I was the treasurer, I wasn’t going to the secretariat often, but now as the secretary, I go there almost every day. Although technology has also made it convenient for me to be in touch with the pharmacies even in my absence, it can’t be compared to when you are physically present. Those are some of the sacrifices to be made.
Some people, especially the charlatans see community pharmacy practice as mere buying and selling. What would you say about this?
There is no basis for comparison between me, a trained pharmacist and a quack, who does not know more than buying and selling drugs. A quack is a mere trader, and all he does is to make a profit. But I don’t belong to their class because I do the pharmaceutical care they can’t do. I provide drug information that they can’t provide.
I have just finished my MBA in Public Health. All this is geared towards efficient healthcare delivery; but a charlatan does not do more than buying and selling. The only thing I don’t do here is surgery. I do referrals also. So these are some of the things people benefit from a trained pharmacist that they can’t get from a quack.
In my pharmacy here, I have the medical history of my patients and when there is a need for referral, I do it. We take their vital signs, we keep their records and we attend to them as they pick their medications, which they can’t get from a quack.
As someone who has been in this area for over 15 years, what diseases would you say bring people to the pharmacy and what are the reasons for it?
Generally, we are prone to malaria in Africa; and Nigeria – especially this area – is not an exception. So, it is mostly malaria. Many people come to the pharmacy on daily basis to buy malaria drugs and to complain about malaria because we are exposed to it in our area.
Other health conditions are diabetes, high blood sugar, hypertension, STDs and others. Stress-induced ulcer is also one of the reasons people come to us for ulcer medications, and the reason is not farfetched – it is because we are exposed to too much stress on a daily basis.
How do you see the continuous professional wrangling among healthcare practitioners in Nigeria?
Doctors don’t usually have an issue with the nurses – because they are like husband and wife; but it is usually the pharmacists. I don’t see any sense in having issues with ourselves as members of the healthcare team. If we should follow international best practice, as stipulated, a patient is at the centre of the healthcare team. And, as a matter of fact, the patient is the head of that team, while other healthcare professionals – like doctors, pharmacists, laboratory scientists, dentists, nurses and even the relations of the patient – are working to achieve a common goal.
But in a situation where a particular set of people want to lord themselves over others, the result won’t be good. So, it is high time we let go of our ego, not only because of peace but in the interest of the patient that we are working to save.
The patient is the utmost goal of any therapeutic mission and, without them, the mission is a waste of time. But when we begin to fight, what does the patient stand to gain?