Pharm. Ikechukwu Okwor is chairman, Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria (ACPN), Nassarawa State Chapter. An alumnus of University of Nigeria (UNN), Nsukka, Okwor is also the managing director of Silver Rose Pharmacy Nigeria Limited, Maraba, Nassarawa State, a community pharmacy established 17 years ago. In this exclusive interview with Pharmanews, the Enugu State born pharmacist argues that, as long as the stipulations of the National Drug Distribution Guidelines (NDDG) remain unimplemented and open drug markets continue to thrive, the country’s battle against drug counterfeiting will be a mirage. He also speaks on the state of community pharmacy practice in Nassarawa. Excerpts:
How would you describe your journey in pharmacy from your early years to date?
As a young pharmacist in community practice, I was full of confidence and proud to be a pharmacist. I was happy I could provide solutions and advice to patients with regards to their drug needs that positively affected their health. So, I walk with my head high and feel satisfied being a care provider.
I have no regret whatsoever being a pharmacist. Studying Pharmacy was the best decision for me and I am happy I made the decision.
However, it is quite saddening that we now operate in a bad environment. Things are now getting worse and one has to struggle for survival as many things that were working perfectly before have turned to something else, and it has now become the survival of the fittest.
In my early days as a young professional, community pharmacy practice was more of professional practice and things were done professionally, compared to nowadays when pharmacy professionals now struggle to survive amidst stiff competition from drug-sellers all over the place. Pharmacy practice is now highly endangered as the professional is almost being hijacked by the charlatans and quacks.
What can you say about the happenings in the healthcare sector of Nassarawa State?
The happenings in the health sector of Nassarawa State are not different from what you find in other states of the federation. There is little or no collaboration between the government and private health institutions in the state, except when donor agencies are involved.
In the general society, drug abuse and misuse is on the increase; so there is need for regulatory agencies to come together with a common agenda in the interest of the general populace.
What are the challenges facing community pharmacy practice in Nasarawa and how can they be tackled?
Well, we used to have the challenge of unhealthy competition from both licensed and unlicensed pharmacy outlets and medicine dealers in the state. However, the past three years have witnessed a drastic change in the regulation of community pharmacy practice in the state due to a functional PIC, comprising a gentle but firm DPS and a no-nonsense, dynamic pharmacist council officer. With this, the bad eggs are being identified and dealt with accordingly, including those who do “register and go”.
What prompted your decision to vie for ACPN chairmanship?
I served as the treasurer in the last administration and was able to see the challenges facing the association. I realised that the best way I could make a positive contribution was to take up the mantle of leadership myself, having garnered the required experience in the practice. I was also encouraged to step forward for the challenge because I had the support of my family and stakeholders in the association.
Could you mention some of your achievements and challenges as ACPN chairman?
We thank almighty God who has been our provider from the inception of this administration and we are trusting Him to be with us till the end of this administration and beyond. Some of our achievements include: establishment of a fully equipped secretariat, which will become functional any moment from now; winning a court case against Nassarawa State Ministry of Commerce and Industry on the issue of business premises registration; restoring a functional state PSN arm after eleven years of inactivity; being part of a functional PIC; standing firmly for pharmacists collecting special loan package from the bank, without any instance of default.
Our major challenge remains how to curb the activities of “register and go” (R&G) pharmacists, and the excesses of some regulatory agencies.
How best do you think the issue of fake drugs and counterfeit medicine can be handled?
This can only be made possible by full implementation of the National Drug Distribution Guidelines (NDDG), and closure of open drug markets across the country. Without this, the battle may linger on for several years without recording success.
What message do you have for your colleagues across the state?
No matter the condition, no matter the situation, always remember that you were trained to save lives; remember your oath, and let us all, as men of honour, join hands together to make Nassarawa State a drug abuse-free society; fight R&G and maintain professionalism in our practice.