Prominent pharmacists in the country have berated the decision of the Federal Government to stop funding the Pharmacy Council of Nigeria (PCN), alongside other professional bodies by 2024, saying it will be illegal and inimical to public interest for the Budget Office to stop allocations to the council.
The personages, who included former President, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Pharm. Olumide Akintayo; Chairman, Board of Fellows of PSN, Pharm. (Dr) Joel Adagadzu; public health expert, Pharm. (Dr) Kingsley Chiedu Amibor; and former Chairman, Committee of Heads of Pharmacy in Federal Health Institutions (COMHPFI), Pharm. (Dr) Daniel Orumwense, who spoke in separate interviews with Pharmanews, maintained that the FG has to rescind the decision, as it is compelled by Section 9 of the PCN Act (2022) to provide budgetary and extra budgetary allocations to the council.
While they acknowledged the merits of the proposal, especially as it mirrors the situation in advanced countries, they emphasised that it is unsuitable for Nigeria’s present socio-economic landscape.
In his sumbission, Pharm. Akintayo admitted that entrusting the regulation and control of professions to professional bodies ultimately places the destinies of such professions in the hands of those who practise them. He, however, stressed that for bodies like the PCN that play more critical and sensitive roles than providing regulations, there must be exceptions to the general rule.
In his words: “For the PCN, the mandate transcends regulating pharmacists and other workforce cadres, to the regulation and control of pharmaceutical premises, in both the public and private sectors. These include facilities for the manufacture, importation, exportation, distribution, wholesale, retail, hospital drug dispensing and sale; pharma component of veterinary practice; and much more.
“The sensitivity of these endeavours I listed, which are legally considered as Drug Matters, is the fundamental reason most nations of the world find it imperative to bring drug use matters under central or federal control. Nigeria is not an exception to this norm, and this is why Drug Matters are listed as item 21 in Part 1 of 2nd Schedule of the 1999 Constitution.
“It is under the purview of the Federal Government to ensure adequate protection of lives, in terms of ensuring easy access to safe, efficacious, and affordable drugs to consumers of health in our country.”
The former PSN president further stated that while it should be a thing of joy to see the Society manage the enormous responsibilities, the capacity for effectiveness would be significantly hampered.
He added that it amounts to utter abdication of responsibility by an otherwise responsible government to contemplate such a drastic move with PCN, which he described as a unique professional regulatory council.
According to him, “Even from the purview of existing laws, the Federal Government is compelled in Section 9 of the PCN Act 2022 to provide budgetary and extra -budgetary allocations to the PCN. It will, therefore, be unlawful and illegal for the Budget Office to stop allocations to the PCN in public interest. I do hope the chief law officer of the country guides the Tinubu administration on this crucial issue.”
While equally decrying the decision, Dr Adagadzu described it as a product of shoddy thinking, adding that he anticipates a reversal or a better arrangement.
He noted that if the move scales through, it will be an added burden on pharmacists and patients, who are still grappling with already high costs of medications.
Adagadzu maintained that government should have made thorough findings on the inflows into the concerned agencies to ensure that they had the financial stamina to operate in the wake of the new policy.
The PSN-BOF chairman also averred that if the government insists on withdrawing allocations to the professional bodies, then it must also stop making political appointment into such agencies, as they will need some degree of autonomy to fulfil their mandates.
He said, “Sometimes government take decisions before they think it through. I don’t know if this is one of those instances. But ordinarily, having worked with government for so long, I expect government to make its findings about the inflows into these agencies, to ensure that they can support themselves and still achieve the objectives they are established to achieve. I doubt if this was done in this case.
“I also know that cutting off the budgetary allocation the way they are trying to do will result in the various regulatory bodies finding ways and means of stocking up their resources. And, to me, the only way they can do so is by charging additional fees or increasing their subscriptions. This will add to the challenges already being faced by the professionals.”
He continued, “If government is no longer going to be responsible for funding, then the relationship between government and these agencies should be redefined. We can’t operate at the same level as we were doing before, because government can’t stop funding and still be imposing chairmen on these agencies. They will need some degree of freedom to fulfill their mandate.”
Dr Amibor, on his part, appealed to the FG to reverse the decision in the interest of the public, adding that it could hamstring the PCN in carrying out its regulatory role. He urged the Federal Government to rather scale up its provision of enabling environment for local manufacturers to thrive.
Amibor mentioned that the use of diesel in powering manufacturing plants consumes the operating profits of many pharmaceutical manufacturers, while insecurity in the country has meant that most cannot deploy their personnel to many states, for fear of kidnapping.
Amibor, who is also the deputy director, Pharmaceutical Services, Federal Medical Centre, Asaba, said, “Government should provide functional infrastructures, water, good roads and so on, and improve on security. It should also provide incentives like tax rebates and patronise the end products of local manufacturers. There is need to intensify regulation of patent medicine vendors, who continue to operate outside their mandates, by stocking all kinds of medicines, including controlled drugs.”
Also lending his voice to the outcry against the new move by the government, Dr Orumwense said it is better for a neutral body like the Federal Government to maintain the operation of the PCN, saying it would assure pharmacists that there is fairness in regulating their professional activities.
Analysing the relationship between PSN and PCN presently, he insisted that the regulatory body cannot be handed over to the Society, as both currently operate like rivals, which further justifies government’s handling of the PCN.
He said, “We can’t leave PCN for PSN to operate, because we are already behaving like political parties presently, and the health of the people will be jeopardised, if the proposal gets implemented because costs of medications will be affected.
“However, if government agrees to pay the salaries of the workers, then it may be a little easier for the council to generate its day-to-day operational costs through the different regulatory subscriptions it generates from pharmacists and pharmaceutical companies.”