Pharm. Babatunde Samuel Aremu is a Merit Award Winner of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) and chairman, Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria (ACPN), Kwara State Chapter. A dedicated pharmacist, Pharm. Babatunde has served as the secretary for ACPN and PSN, Kwara State respectively. He is the MD/CEO of Babsam Pharmacy Limited, Ilorin, Kwara State, a community pharmacy established in 2003.
In this exclusive interview with Pharmanews, the Kwara State born pharmacist argues that as long as open drug markets exist, the country’s battle against drug counterfeiting will remain a mirage . He also speaks on how community practice can be very lucrative, as well as why he considers the much publicised chain-pharmacy concept dicey. Excerpts:
Tell us about your pharmacy and how it was at the beginning.
Immediately after my Youth Service programme at the Ebonyi State University Teaching Hospital in 2002, I worked as a superintendent pharmacist for a few years in some pharmacies in Kwara state in order to gain relevant experience in community pharmacy, my dream practice area. In October 2003, having worked for one year, I opened a small retail outlet called Babsam Pharmacy in a then grossly underserved area. The outlet was basically run in the evenings after returning from my primary assignment. This combination was not an easy thing to do but all the same, with youthful vigor, I managed to do this for a few years until I finally got it registered.
The registration was predicated upon the discovery that with increased presence of a pharmacist in the premises, better patronage and, of course, better sales and profits were assured and also because I wanted to get all the perceived and real benefits that other registered outfits in Kwara State were getting. And I can tell you that ever since the registration, I have had no regret for leaving my former employers and, by God’s grace, Babsam Pharmacy has become a household name in my community and beyond, having rendered a decade-long of dedicated and selfless pharmaceutical services to the community.
One of the key tools that really helped me at the beginning was the introduction of a counselling area in a section of my small premises and ensuring virtually every client coming in got appropriate and adequate counselling on their purchased or prescribed medications as against the over- the -counter transactions other drug stores were practising. Before long, these satisfied customers themselves became my mouthpiece in the community and that really assisted in the rapid growth of the outlet.
You have been a community pharmacist for over ten years, at what point did you decide to go for ACPN chairmanship in Kwara State and what prompted the decision?
Ever since my internship and national service, I have been a community pharmacist and I am still proud today to be one. I am so passionate about this area of pharmacy practice basically because of the joy inherent in being involved in the well-being of members of my immediate community. Also, with community practice, you stand a better chance of putting into use virtually all you were taught in your undergraduate days as a pharmacist. With this passion and love, I soon became a regular attendee of ACPN meetings in my state branch and was dutifully discharging the various assignments given to me by the various executives.
My colleagues probably saw a thing or two that God helped me to do right in these assignments. This prompted my being called upon to serve the association in a higher capacity. So, my decision to serve as ACPN chairman was actually a positive response to the call of my colleagues and also because I saw it as an avenue to use my wealth of experience to improve on the good works established so far by my predecessors. This call came earlier in 2011 but was unheeded due to another equally important assignment of serving as the state PSN secretary.
What is your assessment of community pharmacy practice in this part of the country?
Overall and by virtue of my interaction with some of my counterparts in other states, my assessment of community pharmacy practice in this part of the country may not differ much from what obtains in other states. The practice here is obviously not where it ought to be but certainly we’re not doing badly. Given a better practice environment, the potential to attain the so-called global best practice is high.
Present with us now though are diverse challenges, including inadequate number of pharmacies to serve the ever-increasing population, especially in the rural areas; limited supply and sometimes complete absence of logistic supports for inspectoral activities from the various relevant organs of government; poor orientation/education of members of our various communities on who a community pharmacist really is and the increasingly huge benefits they stand to benefit from patronising one; prescriptions caged within the four walls of hospitals and not getting to our members premises (the private hospitals being the chief culprits) as most of them now have a mini pharmacy without necessarily employing a pharmacist to man such. This last observation is a dangerous trend and one that always proves counterproductive to both the owners of such establishments and, of course, their patients due to that essential missing link – the pharmacist factor.
We can go on and on but the current leaderships of both the PSN and the ACPN are working round the clock to reverse some of these issues especially those that lie within our borders at the least.
How lucrative is community pharmacy practice business in this state?
Community practice essentially is supposed to be a service-oriented one. In days gone by, emphasis tilted in favour of service. However, Nigeria being what it is today, the emphasis is shifting to monetary gains and even most professionals in the health care sector are not spared from this trend. Having said this, I would like to bring it to the fore that the lucrativeness of any business in any part of the country, including Kwara State, is a function of so many factors, including: the location of that business, the quality and sometimes quantity of the human resources running the business (especially the quality of the staff in terms of their approach to customers), the stock size and stock varieties available, availability of the pharmacist-in-charge alongside his/her wealth of experience in handling diverse cases, just to mention a few. With the right blend of these factors and others not listed, any community pharmacy will always get good returns on investment.
However, and generally speaking, community pharmacy business is still a lucrative one here in Kwara ahead of many other business choices. Many places are yet to be covered, even in the urban parts of the state. The rural areas remain a mine gold for potential investors who are able to able to look away from some little inconveniences.
The chain-pharmacy concept is becoming more popular. How do you see the development?
It is indeed a development that needs to be watched more closely. We all need to tread with caution on this. The pros and the cons need to be put on the balances. Personally, I don’t really buy into it. I would rather support the recently talked-about satellite pharmacy concept which, as we speak, is at an advanced stage of planning.
You had some objectives set for yourself at the beginning of your tenure, how many of these have you achieved so far?
Of course, I had my objectives which I built around our slogan “Empowering Pharmacists, Protecting the People”. I actually wanted to see my members being truly empowered in every sense of the word. I wanted to see communities around us benefiting immensely and maximally health-wise from our day-to-day interventions. Consequently, all our programmes so far have been deployed in this direction and they are not likely to change in the months ahead.
We actually wanted to see a community pharmacy practice that was more vibrant and dynamic. We wanted to raise the bar in terms of members welfare; we wanted better publicity for community pharmacists; we wanted to involve ourselves in world health days celebrations, a practice that was hitherto strange to us as an association in Kwara; we wanted to organise and or participate in more trainings/workshops to build our members’ capacity; we wanted to create a way or two that would impact positively on our members finances and many more.
Ten months on, I would say without any fear of contradiction, that the current executives have vigorously pursued these objectives to the best of our abilities. We leave the assessment of our overall performance so far in the hands of our people who gave us the mandate in the first instance. We celebrated, for the first time in our annals, both the World Malaria Day and the World Diabetes Day in 2015, and both exercises were highly successful and widely reported in the print and electronic media. We voted an unprecedented sum of money on welfare. Training/seminars on current trends in malaria management, in partnership with Novartis, as well as a special workshop where our members were sensitised to the relevance of conducting certain simple test procedures in their various outlets were all staged at various times and were all well-attended. Still, work is on-going as we are not there yet. We plan to build on this good foundation to take the practice to a new high level this year, God helping us.
What is your assessment of the health care sector in the year 2015?
The sector witnessed a lot of challenges in 2015. Painfully though, some of these were clearly avoidable ones. The NMA-JOHESU case readily comes to mind with all its attendant strikes, which inflicted untold pain, sorrow and tears upon thousands of Nigerians. A closer look at the demands of JOHESU then and now still show that most are not out of place. It is hoped that in this current era of CHANGE, adequate justice, equity and sincerity of purpose would override sentiments in all ramifications and every component of our health care team as it were will be accorded due respect and remuneration
A major challenge facing pharmacy profession in Nigeria is the problem of fake drugs. How can this challenge be surmounted?
As long as we allow open drug markets to continue, we will continue to battle with this menace for many years to come, as an alarming percentage of fakery originates from these markets. This is no longer news; it is a fact that we must face and deal with without further delay. We have dwelled so long at this harbour but it is a highly dangerous place. It is high time we moved on with other developed countries in eradicating these marts. Knowing the cause of a disease, they say, is half the cure. What else are we waiting for?
The NAFDAC-introduced Truscan machines initially appeared promising in the fight against fakery. Over the years, however, the initiative has been fraught with some ills especially on its accessibility and cost – which has raised questions about its suitability for this fight. Perhaps, with government coming in to subsidise this testing equipment, its availability, even at the level of community pharmacies, would be guaranteed.
The effectiveness of MAS (Mobile Authentication Service) in this fight has also been blown out of proportion and in recent times has brought many unnecessary embarrassments to our members rather than achieving its original purpose. I recommend that NAFDAC in conjunction with pharmaceutical industries and importers take urgent steps in amending the observed lapses in that system if they are bent on its continuity.
The new drug distribution guidelines even as recently amended will certainly go a long way in curbing the menace of this hydra-headed monster of drug counterfeiting. I therefore use this platform to call on the Federal Government of Nigeria to implement this programme without further delay.