President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Prof. Cyril Usifoh, has declared that, regardless of stifling politics within the health sector, his vision is to position Pharmacy and pharmacists at the forefront of nation-building.
In an exclusive interview with Pharmanews, Usifoh averred that the Nigerian pharmacist is equipped with abundant potentials, which can be harnessed to transform the Nigerian economy and set the country on a recovery path.
Citing the worth of the global pharmaceutical industry as 1.42 trillion dollars, with the value in some countries being more than the Nigerian annual budget, the PSN president noted that if the country’s pharmaceutical sector is adequately nurtured, it will be a veritable driver of national development.
Usifoh, who frowned at some alleged actions within the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) against the advancement of Pharmacy, especially agitations against the inclusion of pharmacists in the headship of federal health institutions, said such moves are retrogressive and counterproductive to the nation’s economy.
He highlighted some areas in which active recognition and engagement of pharmacists can help improve Nigeria’s economy to include ensuring a healthy populace, provision of visionary leadership, local drug manufacturing, research and development, mentorship, referrals, among others.
According to the PSN helmsman, “Studies show that when pharmacists are involved in patient care, medication errors are drastically reduced, patients spend less money and time in the hospital, the risk of death and disability is minimal, and a healthier workforce is guaranteed for the nation. It is on record that billions of dollars were saved for the US economy through the activities of pharmacists. Think of what a billion dollars can do for Nigeria.
“Furthermore, as at this moment, there has been neither mention nor commendation of pharmacists for the yeoman’s job they did during the COVID-19 pandemic. The undocumented interventions of community pharmacists helped the populace immensely and the coverage rate was estimated at about 54.5 per cent by the PSN research unit.
“Community pharmacists, even at the risk of their own lives, intensified wellness strategies by ensuring that Nigerians had access to multivitamins, antimalarial cover, ivermectin and other medications, as many other health institutions were either shut down, had restricted access, or were just inaccessible.”
Citing the example of Boris Johnson, the former UK Prime Minister, who publicly appreciated community pharmacists in the country for manning the frontlines in the battle against COVID-19 and subsequently releasing 300 million Pounds to them, he wondered why the Nigerian government has chosen to ignore the roles played by Nigerian pharmacists under grueling conditions to preserve the health of the nation during the same period.
Usifoh added that “even the ministry of health more often than not frustrates efforts made by pharmacy leaders, and indeed leaders of other health bodies to either advance their professions, their professionals or both. The biggest beneficiaries of these efforts would be the Nigerian people and the Nigerian economy. So, in other words, blocking them is akin to blocking the development of the economy.”
To fully harness the potentials of Pharmacy and pharmacists in revitalising the nation’s economy, the PSN leader recommended a “Pharmacoeconomic colloquium”. He described this as an economic forum comprising leaders of Pharmacy in the private and public sector on the one hand, and on the other, all government ministries, departments and agencies involved in economic planning, forecasting and implementation.
“This should be geared towards developing a national master plan for a pharmacy sector revolution to generate exponential revenue by harnessing the abundant potential of the sector.
Speaking on pharmacists’ capability to provide purposeful leadership for the health sector, Usifoh noted that pharmacy training is quite vast and rigorous, equipping the graduates with the competences to take on various challenges. He cited different professional occupations in which pharmacists have performed brilliantly to include banking, telecoms, information technology, management, journalism, logistics and politics, wondering why the FMoH continues to oppose their emergence as leaders of federal health institutions.
According to him, “One wonders why the Ministry of Health is fighting against a bill from the National Assembly seeking to open up the headship of federal health institutions to other professionals and break the monopoly of leadership by medical doctors under whose watch, by the way, Nigeria’s health indices have worsened progressively over the last few decades.
“A few pharmacists have given Nigeria a glimpse into the leadership potential of Nigerian pharmacists. These include Prince Julius Adelusi Adeluyi; Prof. Dora Akunyili; Fidelia Njeze; Governor Danbaba Suntai; Sadiq Umar; Hamza Sakwa; Pharm. Matthew Urhoghide, and others who have served as governors, ministers, directors general, legislators etc., from as far back as 1975. If pharmacists can handle these positions, they can also handle the headship of federal health institutions and other responsibilities.”
On local drug manufacturing, Usifoh stated that with proper incentives from the government, local drug manufacturers can improve tremendously.
“Medicine security is an issue in Nigeria, with a significant amount of medications used in Nigeria being imported. With local manufacturing, drugs will be cheaper, more available and better controlled with less capital flight, even earning forex via export,” he said.
He further noted that the Federal Government has taken a good step in this direction by inviting local manufacturers to bid for the production of medications used in the country’s health insurance, adding, however, that much more needs to be done.
“Of course, increase in manufacturing means more employment opportunities and a reduction in the problem of unemployment,” Usifoh averred.
Concerning pharmacists’ roles in research and development, the PSN president said pharmaceutical research can lead to blockbuster discoveries that can be game-changers for Nigeria. He noted that the discovery of artemisinin contributed enormously to China’s economy, stating that this is because, apart from investing in R&D, the government also gave diplomatic backing to the product, resulting in a global acceptance and adoption of Artemisinin Combination Therapies ACTs as the mainstay in malaria treatment.
He added: “The National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development, (NIPRD) a brainchild of the PSN has been involved in the development of original molecules and medication for a number of conditions, especially Nicosan for sickle cell anaemia. Many herbal remedies exist in Nigeria, with some herbalists possessing original, unique and efficacious formulas for treating a variety of ailments.
“Some extremely rare ancient knowledge handed down to generations of herbalists has been lost because there was no platform transforming them from the crude often undocumented forms to modern forms.
“It is important for NIPRD to work with the Traditional Medicine Council to, if possible, embark on a massive search, evaluation, analysis and documentation of unique interventions by Nigerian herbalists and healers in the hope of discovering some remedies which will improve lives and earn revenue for the country.
“Other research works are being carried out by NIPRD and with better support and encouragement, not only will more products be churned out but they will also be positioned for maximum benefits to mankind and revenue for the nation.”