How I built a mega pharmacy with N600 drugs – Pharm Nwachukwu
In this exclusive interview with Pharmanews, Pharm. (Mrs) Edith Uchenna Nwachukwu, founder and managing director of Audion Pharmacy Nigeria Limited, shares some of her experiences from the early days as a struggling community pharmacist to the present day as an established entrepreneur. She also discusses her contributions towards ensuring that the challenge of fake and counterfeit medicines is overcome and what others should do to effectively tackle the menace. Excerpts:
How long have you been in the practice and how did it all begin?
I have been in the practice for about 30 years now because I graduated from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State in June 1984, and did my internship with the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Umuahia, Abia State. I served in Kakuri General Hospital, Kaduna State. I came to Lagos after then and someone at the PSN got me a job to work with Galaxy Pharmaceuticals. What we were doing was mainly distribution, and that was how I came into the practice.
I had a driver and an office and we went to companies to distribute to them. We used to cover areas like Bariga, Mushin, Ikeja and Agege. By the way, Idumota was not really a big name then, so I worked with Galaxy for about four years and my salary then was 1000 naira – in fact, it was around 900 naira after deducting tax (laughs).
At a time, a relative of mine in the US asked me to help him sell some drugs in Nigeria and, in doing so, I think I made a profit of about 300 naira. So I started looking for a shop with the money, having discovered that I had the skills to be a good salesperson, and I eventually got one. Incidentally, my boss had been aware of all this[intention to go into community pharmacy] because, as a child of God, I could not hide such a thing from him. He stood by me through it all and even prayed with me inside the shop I rented.
After spending the entire 300 naira in getting the shop, there was no money left to stock it; so I had to go back to God for direction and He told me to go to people I was distributing to and ask them for assistance. And as God would have it, I met some of them, especially those in Bariga and Mushin. The likes of Sabiz, Omike and the rest were my people then; so one of them called Gabiz looked at me and said he was going to give me stocks on credit that I should pay him after selling in order to get more. So I got a stock of six hundred naira from him (laugh) and that was what I started with. In fact after buying the drugs, there was no money to transport the goods. He had to made another sacrifice by helping me to bring the goods in his own car to Mende in Maryland where I opened my first pharmacy. So, Audion Pharmacy Limited started in 1989, while it was incorporated in 1990, but with lots of hard work, coupled with the grace of God, this is where we are today.
Based on your experience, how would you assess community pharmacy practice in Nigeria?
Pharmacy practice has come a long way because when I started, there were not many practising community pharmacy. There were people like Jaykay in the whole of Apapa and another one in Ikeja then. There was also Olusanya Pharmacy(though the man is late now) and Alpha Pharmacy who was just starting then. So I will say community practice has come a long way.
Many pharmacists in those days preferred to be in the industry because of the money and other benefits involved; but, to say the least, the practice has had its difficult time in the past, unlike nowadays that everybody wants to be in community practice. In those days, before setting up, you had to look for money to get a shop, register it, stock it and there was not much money in the country then and it was difficult getting a loan. So you have to struggle to raise the capital on your own.
Tell us about some of your challenges and how you were able to surmount them
The first challenge in community pharmacy practice is that of human resource management and pilfering. It’s difficult getting a trustworthy and God-fearing staff nowadays as most of them are after money and when they discover that there is no way to steal, they leave. So, it is a big challenge for us, but God has been helping me.
Another major challenge has to do with transporting of goods from one place to another – unlike in the advanced world where you could source for your goods online and they could even be transported to your pharmacy.
However the main challenge is still that of staffing. Imagine when I came back from the last ACPN conference in Ilorin, four of my staff left on the same day without any prior notice and I was helpless to the extent that I had to be at the pharmacy throughout that period before I managed to get another set of staff.
What is your view about the growing concern that newly graduating pharmacists are running away from community practice?
I have also noticed that in recent times. I think the young people of nowadays are after nothing than instant money and they are not ready to be patience about it. It’s like the inscription I read somewhere where somebody said, “God give me patience, but give it to me now.”
The challenge is impatience. Since they want to make money at all cost, they feel going into community practice may not satisfy their quest for making quick money. But community practice is not all about money-making; it’s about rendering service to humanity.
Another challenge is that of our pharmacy schools. The schools are no longer living up to expectations. Imagine a Pharmacy graduate that cannot face a patient. In fact, I take my time to correct some of them on many occasions here when I discover that the services they render are not up to expectation. But the saddest thing is that they have no patience to be trained.
Tell us about your relationship with the people of this community and the most common health conditions that bring them to your pharmacy.
I have been in this community in Ogba-Ijaiye since 1998, and I have never had a problem with any of the people. They love me and I also love them. In fact, I do to go to their homes to treat them while some of their old one soften come here sit and chat with me. Most times, they don’t leave until they discover that another set of people has arrived. In fact, there was a time May & Baker sponsored a free community typhoid vaccination programme here and they all came here to benefit from it.
Actually, the major people I deal with here are the elderly, those who get bored sitting alone and those who have nobody to talk to at home. And I take it as a duty to keep talking with them about their health and also pray with them.
The major health challenges that bring people to this place are hypertension and diabetes and the reason they come here is because they are assured of good pharmaceutical care and they feel they can talk to us. I am happy today that, at least, I’m a blessing to my community and, looking back, I am happy to be a pharmacist.
How active are you at ACPN-related activities?
I am very active at the level of the ACPN. At a time, I was made chairman, Pharmacists Day. Another time I was made a member of the planning committee for the national conference in Port Harcourt and Calabar. And, just recently, I was made chairman of the planning committee for the national conference in Ilorin.
I want others [community pharmacists] to know that if they are not there, there is no how they will know how it is being done. They should all get involved and add their quotas to the success of the profession.
How do you see the war on fake drugs and what strategy do you think can be adopted to effectively tackle the menace?
Pharmacy has come a long way and we are doing well, but it is unfortunate this war on fake drugs is proving difficult to be won because the people we are dealing with are people who want to make money by all means. But what baffles me is why we are finding it difficult to arrest those who are producing these substandard drugs. Are they not human beings and, so, can’t be arrested?
Imagine, these fake products come into the country on daily basis and pass through our borders and ports and yet we find it difficult to stop them despite the security measures in these places. What we need is total overhauling of our system. We also need to pray that God helps us.
Let me give you an example of what happen when I was at Maryland. A certain drug expired on my shelf and a boy came to my pharmacy to ask for the same drug. I told him it had expired, but he insisted that I should sell the drug to him at half price. I was amazed, but the Spirit of God told me he wanted to buy it and backdate it so he could resell it. So I went into my office, brought out a bucket of water and the products and started opening the products and pouring them into the water. That shows how bad it is in this country. I think until we all have change of mind and have the fear of God…We pharmacists should also maintain our stand and say no to stocking and selling of fake drugs.
Also, those who are non-pharmacists should also have the fear of God and accept Jesus as their Saviour (I love bringing gospel teaching into whatever I say).They should know that it is not safe to throw stones when they are in a glass house, because they can’t say who might be hit.
What is your advice to young pharmacists who are willing to come into the practice?
They should understand that ‘Rome was not built in a day.’ They should be patient and ready to learn. I told you I started with 600 naira and God, in His infinite mercies, has taken us this far and I am very sure He will do much more. So they should be calm and ready to learn. Even the Bible talks about learning; so they should be ready to learn and apply what they have learnt.
Also, they should be prudent in their spending – not that they will be thinking about cars today, house tomorrow and all that. I am worried that with the way we are going in this profession, in the next few years, there may no serious-minded pharmacists again in this country if we don’t check what these young ones are doing. They must set goals for themselves and ensure they follow such goals.