My Vision is to Ensure Better Empowerment and Recognition for Pharmacists – Olubowale

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Pharm. Gbenga Olubowale is a former national secretary, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN); and former chairman, PSN-Lagos. He is the managing director, Golby Healthcare Limited, a community-based pharmacy, which he founded in 1999; as well as being a director at both Pharmforte Network Limited and Healthy Alliance Stores Limited (HEALS).

A Fellow of the PSN, with over 20 years of experience in organised professional practice, Olubowale is a contender for the position of ACPN national chairman in the election scheduled to hold at the 2021 national conference of the association, holding in Abeokuta, Ogun State in September. In this interview with Pharmanews, Olubowale, who has held several leadership positions within and outside the pharmaceutical industry, speaks on his vision for the ACPN. Excerpts:

You have been very active in the activities of organised pharmacy groups for years, especially that of the PSN and ACPN, but how did this interest in pharmacy leadership start for you?

For me, service has always been my second nature. Even right from when I was in secondary school, I had been a class monitor, prefect, and many others. Also, when I got to the university before I travelled out – and even when I travelled out – I became like the chairman of the Nigerian students in the school where I studied. So it has always been a part of me.

When I came back to the country, I realised that I needed to be a part of the system; so I did not think twice before I joined what was going on then. I started attending meetings in my zone, which was the Ikeja Zone of ACPN; and as far back as the year 2000, I was secretary for the Ikeja Zone, which was under the leadership of Sir Ike Onyechi of Alpha Pharmacy, before I became the secretary of ACPN-Lagos in 2003. Prior to that, I had been a member of several committees, from Continuing Education, to Conference Planning, Pharmacy Week, and many others.

This is what I love to do. I create that time and I do it in such a way that it does not affect my practice. I have always had pharmacists working with me so that when I am not there, there are people covering up at the back end.

From being secretary of ACPN, I moved on to become the chairman from 2006 to 2009. So, for six years, I was an active member of the ACPN National Executive Council, and that was the period we had a transformation of the Nigerian Association of General Practice Pharmacists (NAGPP), as it was called then, to the National Association of Community Pharmacists (NACP), and later to ACPN.

In 2008, I went on to become the national secretary of PSN for another three years (2008 to 2011), which gave me further exposure because, as the national secretary, which is the engine room of the society, I was involved in policy and decisions that affected our society. We did a lot of things and it was not an easy job but we thank the Lord for seeing us through.

Meanwhile, when I thought I had seen it all and needed to sit back and take a rest, another responsibility beckoned again in 2014 when I became chairman, PSN-Lagos, for another three years, after which I sat back. In-between this, in 2016, I was the chairman of the planning committee of the PSN national conference in Minna, Niger State. So it’s been service upon service.

Were there some major awards given to you in recognition of your service?

I have won several awards, but of note is the merit award of PSN-Lagos, the PSN fellowship, several awards from PANS, and quite many from other arms of the Society, too numerous to mention.

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You are a past chairman, ACPN-Lagos, and now an aspirant for the position of national chairmanship of the association. What prompted your decision to vie for this exalted position and what are your goals for community pharmacy practice in Nigeria, if elected?

Gbenga Olubowale has been part of community pharmacy activities for about 20 years now and I tell people that, right from the time of Sir Anthony Aikhimien – when he was the ACPN national chairman from 2000 to 2003 – I have been part of the NEC because I came into that NEC in 2003, and up till now I have worked practically with all the national chairmen. I have been able to notice how well they have worked and the gaps that need to be filled up.

Community pharmacy in Nigeria is not where it is supposed to be, as there is still much more to do. It saddens my heart when I see people say the older you grow in this profession, the poorer you become. I say it is not supposed to be so, as we need to look at how things could be done better. So, one of the things we are bringing to the table is empowerment – empowerment through the practice environment, as we need to improve upon the hostile environment in which our member’s practice.

Pharm. Gbenga Olubowale

Of course, we cannot achieve this alone. We will collaborate with our regulators so that proper things could be put in place and our colleagues can begin to breathe and experience prosperity in their areas of practice.

Also, we are talking about capacity building of the average community pharmacist. Although we were not taught business while in school, whether we like it or not, community pharmacy has two edges: one is the humanitarian service, which is the practice; but the other is the business. We cannot survive solely on the practice; so there has to be a balance, otherwise the practice is heading for the rocks.

We are also looking at finance. We believe that if our colleagues have easy access to finance, preferably single digit interest loans, it will be easy for many of us to approach the financial institutions, access these loans, and put in our businesses. Beyond that, we also need to know whether what we are running is a good business or a bad one; so we are going to assist our colleagues in this aspect of access to loan.

We are also talking about the Rural Pharmacy project. It has been said severally but I believe that now might be the appropriate time to bring it to reality, more so with the Pharmacy Bill before the National Assembly. If the bill eventually becomes a law, it has a lot of benefits, as it will make the PCN more effective because there are presently so many limitations to their efforts. Once the bill becomes operative, the Council would have no excuses to move faster than it is moving presently.

Collaboration is also another important thing that has to be enhanced. We have to enhance relationships with our regulators, and we also need strong collaborations within the PSN technical groups and interest groups, including the NGOs and other allied bodies. The media are also important so as to make our yearnings heard and our activities known. I see no reason why one should be blinking in the darkness.

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Also, I believe in visibility and recognition, such that the activities of the ACPN need to be well reported. Our pharmacy emblem needs to be promoted appropriately so that every adult and everyone out there will begin to know who a pharmacist is and what a registered pharmacy represents, so that it can go into the consciousness of everybody. We shall pursue this vigorously.

Also, we have a Drug Information Centre (DIC), which I think can be rejigged so that everything we are doing will be well documented. The DIC will be like our research centre, where we will churning out information to both the public and practitioners. It will be a constant activity – not waiting for WHO Health Days alone – churning out figures and statistics; and with these statistics, we can lobby the government and other stakeholders.

Kudos however must be given to the current administration because they are doing so much in the aspect of reaching out, but we shall improve on this. And this can only be achieved when we start having evidence-based practice; it is then they will take us seriously.

We will engage the public on key health issues regularly and we must give adequate recognition to community pharmacists, just like PSN is doing with the conferment of fellowship when an individual has done well in the practice. I believe that in community pharmacy practice, we can also have a form of recognition for our members who have done so much in the practice with an appropriate award, showing that such a person has attained the zenith of the profession and it will be a morale booster for the practitioners. We will pursue this and ensure that our people get adequate recognition, even while they are alive.

We will also pursue continuity, in the sense that the fantastic projects and ideas of the immediate past chairman will be followed appropriately and implemented, without being abandoned in pursuit of another new project.

Currently, we have the “Transgenerational Pharmacy Concept” being promoted by the outgoing administration, which cannot be finished under one administration. We shall pursue such and ensure it’s implemented. Let us begin to create structures -not supermen – so that when their structures are in place, it will be “soldiers come, soldiers go, barrack will remains.”

What have you identified as the biggest challenge facing community pharmacists in Nigeria and how can it be surmounted?

The chaotic drug distribution system is a major challenge. But the question is, how do we solve it – as several efforts have been made in time past? We have talked about the coordinated wholesale outlets. We have talked about the NDDG – and others that we have talked about years back, but where is the result?

So, it is high time we made our policymakers realise that these are the things that we need to do to safeguard the sector. And we are saying it, not because of our selfish interest but because the average consumer out there needs to realise that you must not toy with your health. Therefore it is important they seek the professionals. Although it may appear expensive, ignorance is much more expensive.

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We must talk about the professionals’ empowerment by creating a decent pharmaceutical space for them to work. This will help us to be sure of our sourcing; we can be sure of our products and we can be sure of what we are giving to the end-users. This is important, as every other thing hangs around it. It is sad because if you enter the pharmacies of some colleagues and see how scanty they are, you will be amazed and wonder how much they can make in such premises.

Many are not empowered and can’t even afford to go to seminars and conferences where they could be trained on trending things and approaches. Of course, we have been talking about using technology to advance our practice as we are in a technological age. Even most of the manual things we used to do in the past are now obsolete.

Community pharmacy practice has evolved over the years and practitioners are now more involved in public health issues. Considering how far the practice has come, where do you hope to see community pharmacy in the next 20 years?

In the next 20 years, I hope to see community pharmacy leading the healthcare sector and no longer playing second fiddle to anybody. I see us being proud to be called community pharmacists. We should be fulfilled doing our work in our various pharmacies, and we should be seen as major stakeholders when health issues are discussed in this country. But we can only achieve this by showcasing our usefulness and by showcasing that we are an indispensable healthcare provider.

Hopefully, by that time, every community pharmacy would have been designated as a primary healthcare centre, whereby we don’t need to start going far away because we want to treat minor illnesses that can be addressed by the primary healthcare centres. And we will raise our practice to accommodate others services like immunisation, vaccination, and others. We would have risen above pettiness and raised our standards.

As one of the stakeholders in the profession, how would you assess the contribution of the annual ACPN conference to the development of the pharmacy profession in Nigeria?

The annual conference generally is a good thing because, as a body, we need a forum to come together once in a while to do appraisal, rejig ourselves, network, learn new things, and exchange knowledge. So, for me, I see nothing wrong in annual conferences.

The only thing is how do we redesign it to make it more robust and more beneficial to all concerned. Presently at the level of ACPN, we are not doing badly, as people learn new things, improve knowledge, socialise and even unwind and relax, which is good for us as community pharmacists. It’s even no longer an annual conference but an annual scientific conference because new things are being added to it. So, as they say, “iron sharpens iron”. I feel the conference is needed and essential. I will encourage more people to join this year in order to play an active role in deciding the future of the association by electing new officers to pilot the affairs of the association for another three years.

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