In every war, those at the frontline suffer the most. The COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. Pharmacists have been vital healthcare providers in the outbreak as they are often the first port of call for many patients, thereby placing them among the most at risk. These were the sentiments expressed by Pharm. Livy-Elcon Emereonye, a community pharmacist and managing director, Letonia International Limited, in this interview with Pharmanews, Emereonye, a radical public health analyst with a B.Pharm from Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, and an MSc from the University of Lagos, also highlights the challenges facing community pharmacy practice in Nigeria. Excerpts:
Tell us about your pharmacy. What prompted your choice of location, and how was it at the beginning?
The name is Letonia International Limited, located in Agege, Lagos State. The reason for my choice of location when we started newly was passion for service and the desire for wealth creation.
At the beginning, I must be sincere, it was not easy. In fact, it was very tough, to the extent that we could not have more than three sachets of paracetamol tablets. But as the going got tough, we became more creative and got going, and the result is what we are seeing today.
Tell us about your relationship with the people of this community?
As a person, I value human relationships very well, and as a community pharmacist and healthcare professional, I relate well with people professionally, working always to meet their health needs. To prevent disease and promote good health, we engage in regular corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities. We conduct periodic free health checks, amongst others. We hope to do more within the limits of our ability.
Comparing your aspirations in the university with what you are doing presently, would you say studying Pharmacy was a good decision for you?
Yes, studying Pharmacy was a very good decision. Being a pharmacist is one of the best things that happened to me, and we are doing great exploits to God’s glory.
There are frequent reports of community pharmacies closing down or being put up for sale by the owners. What could be causing this, and how can community pharmacy business be made more profitable and sustainable in the country?
The problem is not peculiar to community pharmacies alone. Business is an art and success is in the being, not in the profession. Having said that, harsh economic realities and tough business environments can lead to the closure of a community pharmacy. Also, personnel management is the greatest challenge to entrepreneurship, especially in Nigeria.
Community pharmacy practice is lucrative and profitable to those who have the requisite training and business acumen. And to make it more sustainable, government and indeed the people should not only appreciate the pharmacist as the most educated and most accessible healthcare professional but should go a step further to protect them from every form of danger and attack.
What have been your major involvements in pharmaceutical activities, especially leadership, roles in the past?
I started my professional leadership role from the university as PANS president, at Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State, and it has been one activity after another from internship to date. I have held official posts at PSN state level, and also served in her technical group, apart from other roles at different committee levels.
The theme of the 93rd PSN conference, Omoluabi 2020, is “Technological Revolution: Adaption in Pharmaceutical Manufacturing, Pharmacy Practice and Regulation”. From your experience and interactions, how apt is this theme, considering the challenges facing the country?
The theme is very apt and timely, bearing in mind the threats and opportunities of COVID-19 and the resultant “new normal.”
What areas of the pharmacy profession do you think stakeholders at the conference need to address?
It is like putting the cart before the horse. Our annual conference is one of the best conferences in Nigeria and it has been like that, through tough and hard times for 92 years. Also, seasoned speakers and panelists have been chosen for this one too and I am sure they will do justice to this one as well.
What should community pharmacists be doing to enable them contribute more to healthcare delivery, especially at this period of COVID-19?
They have done so much and they are still doing more even, at their cost and expense. Community pharmacists are at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19 and most of us did so without a “thank you” from anybody, including the government. In other words, it would have been worse without the community pharmacists and to do more, the government at all levels should come to their aid.
If you were not to be a pharmacist, what other profession would you have opted for and why?
If it is a conditional phrase! I am a very passionate pharmacist and would remain a pharmacist, though I have interest in psychology and literature, and this is why I am fully into literary work.