Weak Pharmacy Laws Empowering Charlatans – Ondo ACPN Chairman

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Worried by the increasing shortage of pharmacists in Ondo State, as well as the rate at which pharmacy outlets are being shut down or put up for sale, the Chairman, Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria (ACPN), Ondo State Chapter, Pharm. Babalola Osabiya Taiwo, has lamented that community pharmacy is no longer in the hands of the professionals.

Speaking with Pharmanews in an exclusive interview, Taiwo, a 1983 graduate of Pharmacy from University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU), and Merit Award Winner of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Ondo State Chapter, dissected the issues surrounding community pharmacy practice in the state, as well as steps that can be taken to improve the practice generally in the country.  Excerpts below:

Can we have a glimpse into your pharmacy journey?

I have been an active and financial member of PSN and ACPN in Ondo State. I have served actively in all departments of the associations. To the glory of God, I resuscitated the moribund ACPN, which was then Nigerian Association of General Practice Pharmacists (NAGPP), in 1995. I served as the secretary and as the chairman from 1998 to 2000.  Posterity beckoned once again last year for me to come and serve ACPN as the state chairman.

I have obtained many awards of service. Prominent are the Merit Award of the PSN, Ondo State, and the Distinguished Community Pharmacist Award of the ACPN national.

It may interest you to know that I am a politician, too. I became a part-time member of the Hospital Management Board in 1992. And, at intervals, because of the military interregnum, I was a member till 2003 – a total of 11 years, with various achievements.

I was able to plead with the authority for the creation of Directorate of Pharmaceutical Services in the Hospital Management Board. I had the opportunity to preside over the employment of many of my colleagues, both senior and junior. I met eight pharmacists in Ondo State hospitals, but the number had increased to 80 in 2003, when I was leaving the Board.

I also served the state as the chairman of Agricultural Inputs Supply Agency, from 2009 to 2013, and I left good legacies which I am proud of.  Consistently I have been a good ambassador of the PSN and the ACPN.

In the area of my practice, I am doing well. I have conducted my practice without blemish. No allegations of professional misconduct for the past 32 years of BOT Pharmacy and my 38 years of graduation, to the glory of God.

 

You had some goals set for yourself at the inception of this administration, how many of these goals have you achieved so far?

You are right. You must know that community pharmacy practice consists of two components, the business and the practice. We are both businesspeople and professionals. As a businessperson, you must have a comprehensive work plan in any year. Whatever happens, I am a Christian, and I always comfort myself with the words of Apostle Paul: “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.”

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The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 till now has negatively affected every business globally. Plans were distorted and modified. Still, we learnt some lessons from the phenomenon.

What is your assessment of community pharmacy practice in Ondo State? What are the challenges facing practitioners and how can they be surmounted?

Pharmacy practice in this state is not what it should be. You cannot compare the practice in Ondo state with that of Lagos, Ibadan, Edo, Abuja, Port Harcourt and other big cities. Those are urban areas, compared to our rural area – so classified for the purpose of this interview. The quantum of money in circulation in the economy of those cities is huge. You have factories; closeness to the sourcing of pharmaceuticals, in terms of logistics; and high patronage level.

Here, in Ondo State, no factories; and we are far from procurement centres. There are no big pharmaceutical refill centres. We have to travel for hours to restock our pharmacies. So, our challenges are multifarious.

The problem of quacks is there, as everyone sees community pharmacy as a business, without considering that drug are poisons that need the supervision of the trained and registered professionals and premises. Drugs are hawked everywhere – in buses, and in trays in open markets.

You know Nigerians like cheap things. Even the educated ones are bereft of the potency of drugs. Overall, is the lack of will to critically review the pharmacy laws, which had been promulgated before the digital age. The laws are stale.

Honestly, as of today, pharmacy practice is not in the hands of pharmacists. The professionals believe they are to serve humanity, in line with their code of ethics, rather than seeing drugs as cash cows. But to the non-professionals, it’s an article of merchandise. The truth is that it has become a lucrative choice for moneybags.

To combat some of these problems, the regulatory agencies – PCN, NAFDAC, and the Ministry of Health in Ondo State – are trying their best to see that the pharmacy sector in  the state is sanitised to an acceptable level.

 

There are frequent reports of community pharmacies closing down or being put up for sale by owners. What could be causing this, and how can community pharmacy business be made more profitable and sustainable in the country?

This is a worrisome development – when a practitioner gives up on his practice. This often happens when challenges are overwhelming. As I told you earlier, our practice is of two in one – business and practice. You need a huge sum of money to set up and maintain a good community pharmacy store. Therefore, availability of funds is the first requirement.

You cannot have a good business without money. For instance, many of the self-funding sources accessible to us in the past are no more available. For many years, running to eight years now, no government patronage is available to our members. No tender, no bidding. Even banks are not giving overdraft, which we enjoyed in the 80s and 90s. Where loans are available in any bank, our members cannot meet the requirements. So sad!

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Therefore, pharmacies are put on sale when the pharmacist is overwhelmed and chooses to go for greener pastures. Brain drain is happening in the pharmacy sector too. As a matter of fact, the country is badly in short of pharmacists than physicians and nurses.

 

There has been a growing concern over the shortage of pharmacists in Ondo State, as expressed by the PSN a year ago. What do you think stakeholders in the profession and the government can do to salvage the situation?

It is absolutely true that the state does not have the number of pharmacists required to cover the government’s health facilities. The reason is simple. The practice environment is very hostile to our colleagues. Many of them have migrated abroad for comfortable living. As of 2020, the total number of pharmacists in Nigeria was 28,000 – both dead and alive, going by the PCN’s registration figures. The living pharmacists available to serve our over 200 million population cannot be more than 22,000. This situation will continue, until the situation in the country improves and our government pays attention to the welfare of our colleagues.

Unfortunately, we were not trained in the act of using strike to make demands from government like others. Hardly can you hear that pharmacists go on strike. We serve humanity, not money. We are men of honour. But, then, we deserve a good standard of living.

However, we will continue to support this administration in spite of its dwindling resources. We will continue to be partners in progress.

 

During a “thank you” visit to the Ondo State Governor, Mr Rotimi Akeredolu, early this year by pharmacists in the country, led by National President of PSN, Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, the governor said that both medical doctors and pharmacists were in the same profession, stressing that no discrepancy should exist between the two. What is your take on this statement?

I am not surprised at the view of Mr Governor. He is a member of the silk profession, a SAN. He is learned. We are members of the same family. We work to complement each other. Can the body say the hands, legs, eyes, and ears are not useful to it? – just to paraphrase St. Paul in the book of 1 Corinthians.

Unfortunately, a group in the partnership in the sector is so arrogant and domineering. They fail to see the signs of the current global equation. All of us have to work together in order to deliver good services to our clients.

 

What can you say about the happenings in the healthcare sector in Ondo State?

I can boldly tell you that the high health standard set by the previous administration is at another commendable level. The present administration so much places a high premium on the health sector, such that the state now has a medical teaching hospital. The medical college (University of Medical Sciences, UNIMED) is producing medical personnel in various fields of Medicine. The NUC has accredited a school of pharmacy for the college and it will soon take off.

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Infrastructural developments are going on at the former site of the General Hospital, Akure. A standard laboratory for COVID-19 test and Lassa fever was established in the state by this administration. We also have a well-equipped isolation centre for infectious diseases. Modern equipment and scanners are now available in UNIMED.

Our comprehensive health centres are improving. NGO partnerships with government programmes are on the rise. Funds available from international NGOs are well utilised.

Nevertheless, all is not a bed of roses. We have shortages in human resources, due to inadequate funding, which is a problem globally.

 

Tell us about Sunshine Coopharm. How did it come into existence, and what is happening to it presently?

Sunshine Coopharm is a business venture created for the welfare of pharmacists in the state, especially the ACPN members. However, it was later expanded to accommodate the other arms of the PSN. It came into existence during the regime of Dr Olusegun Agagu, in its “roadmap to progress 2005”. It was one of the prime vendors approved for the pharmaceutical management programme of that regime.

Like any other similar programme in Nigeria, it got corrupted along the line. It was abused. Presently, it is undergoing restructuring to properly position it to be more viable.

 

What should community pharmacists be doing to enable them to contribute more to healthcare delivery, especially at this crucial period of COVID-19?

That is a good question. You cannot grow more than what you learn. Knowledge is power. To be relevant in the present age, you have to develop your capacity. Apart from the MCPDE, organised by the PCN every year, pharmacists must attend special courses in our tertiary institutions, as well as seminars and workshops. Otherwise, you may not be able to render the required services to the public.

In fact, this is a season of specialisation in community practice and the pharmacy profession. A community pharmacist must be up-to-date in clinical practice. We have moved from the era of just filling prescriptions; our practice is now patient-focused.

ICT know-how is indispensable. The logistics problem of the past is fading away. You can buy and sell through the Internet. It is becoming more convenient to go into the practice than the time past.

Above all, I implore my colleagues to always abide by our code of ethics. We must exercise restraint, not to be too much particular about financial gains. Rather, we should pursue value. God has a way of taking care of His own. Humanity should be our priority. We are really in a hard time. But we must not lose our souls.

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