Poor sales almost drove me out of community pharmacy – Pharm. Sunmonu
In this exclusive interview with Pharmanews, Pharm. Ismail Kola Sunmonu, managing director of Caratiyah Pharmacy, argues that the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN) has not done much in rescuing the practice from the hands of the charlatans. He also spoke on the issue of chain pharmacy outlets and how it can be used to the advantage of Nigerians. Excerpts:
Briefly tell us about your background
I was born in Akoka Lagos State a little less than four decades ago, precisely on 28 January. I had my primary education at the National Primary School, Abule-Ijesha, Yaba, Lagos (1984-1989). My secondary education started at St. Timothy’s College Onike-Yaba but was completed at Ikeja High School in 1995. From there, I proceeded to Yaba College of Technology where I obtained a National Diploma in Computer Science before going to study Pharmacy at the University of Lagos (1999/2000 session). I’m currently a part 2 student of the West African Postgraduate College of Pharmacists. I am happily married with children.
Tell us about your pharmacy, when did you establish it and how was it at the beginning?
Destiny, perhaps, led me to community pharmacy practice. I say that because I initially fell in love with hospital pharmacy practice as I saw it at the National Orthopaedic Hospital Igbobi, where I had my internship training. I later settled for a brief hospital practice at a private hospital after my NYSC. This gave me a good exposure to drug procurement and brought me in contact with the sales representatives of many pharmaceutical companies.
However, the decision to start Caratiyah Pharmacy was taken in year 2009 after an old friend (a pharmacologist) offered to sell a troubled business premises to me. I bought over the failed wholesale premises to start a retail pharmacy business. But to be honest with you, I contemplated quitting many times due to poor sales at the beginning. However, with words of encouragement from mentors like Pharm. Deji Osinoiki, Pharm. M. O. Sanusi and Pharm. Fred Oduwole, I was able to weather the storm.
What is your assessment of community pharmacy practice in this part of the country?
My assessment of community pharmacy practice in this part of the country, on a scale of ten, is four. Maybe with the exception of a few pharmacies that have moved a little above six, especially those pharmacies in high-brow areas that cater mainly to the rich. Coverage is still nothing to write home about, with places like Epe and Badagry left to the mercy of patent and proprietary medicine vendors (PPMVs).
Nearly half of all the registered community pharmacists in the country are jostling for unavailable spaces in the Lagos metropolis with poor sales driving most of them into ‘register and go’ and sometimes, outright fronting for businessmen who later graduate to join the train at the open drug markets.
Still, I believe community pharmacy practice is a goldmine for pharmacists, majority of who do not even know the worth of they have. Sadly, the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN) has not helped much as it appears to have lost a good part of its birthright to NAFDAC. One can only hope that with the commitment of the present registrar, coupled with the revolutionary ideas of great minds like Pharm. Bukky George, Pharm. Shina Opanubi and the relentless efforts of the Lagos PIC, things will get better.
What will you say are the major challenges facing community pharmacists in Nigeria at the moment?
The challenges facing community pharmacists today are so many but the major ones include poor access to funds. Even where the funds are available by way of bank loans, they come with crippling double-digit interest rates of not less than 22 per cent. There is also lack of political will to implement existing pharmacy laws. Some people argue that the laws are outdated but my position is, within the limits of the powers vested in PCN, how many of the present laws have been implemented to the letter? This will lead me to mention the challenges that arise from vested interests from other professionals like doctors, nurses, laboratory scientists and others, who believe that the drug business should be open to all without recourse to strict adherence to professionalism.
How lucrative is community pharmacy practice in this area?
I maintain that community pharmacy practice is quite lucrative and can only get better when importers and manufacturers find a way of allowing beautiful packages and good credit facilities to trickle down to the retailers rather than lock up huge sums of money in the hands of unregistered practitioners in the open drug markets.
The retail chain pharmacy concept is becoming more popular by the day, how do you see this development?
Chain pharmacy is a welcome development if, and only if, they abide by the existing laws guiding pharmacy practice and the government is able to use the chains to solve the problem of health coverage by encouraging the chains to move into the hinterlands and rural areas.
You had some objectives when you established your pharmacy, how many of these objectives have you achieved so far?
My main objective really was to positively affect the health outcome of my immediate community through the provision of quality pharmaceutical care and sales of affordable medicines and pharmaceuticals without necessarily running a charity home. To God be the glory, I can say with all sense of modesty that community practice is most gratifying as it gives a lot of job fulfillment. The financial gains are not enough yet but I believe it can only get better. I also hope to entrench and spread the gospel of good pharmacy practice among the middle and low income earners, from where we can gradually save up money to join the big players at the top.
What can you say about general happenings in the Nigerian health care sector?
The health care sector in Nigeria is still very primitive with the players playing down professionalism and quality service, while running after common product medicines, to which they all tie services both delivered and undelivered. This singular fact is what has affected the implementation of the NHIS and that is why some doctors find it difficult to do away with the fraud called “global capitation.”
A major challenge facing pharmacy profession in Nigeria is the problem of fake drugs. How best do you think this can be handled?
The problem of fake drugs in Nigeria is one that can be tackled when the major regulatory bodies, i.e. PCN and NAFDAC, decide to work together for the benefit of Nigerians. While NAFDAC should strengthen its resolve to checkmate faking of products within and outside the country by constant monitoring and adequate audit trial of products, the PCN should wake up from its slumber and ensure that there is little or no space for unlicensed manufacturers and drug sellers to operate.
PCN officials should carry their crusade into hospitals that sell drugs without recourse to registration. They should also publish an annual list of registered pharmacists in the country and their respective places of work.
Our schools of Pharmacy should equally assist in building integrity in our graduates so they don’t leave school to hang their licences in illegal drug outlets for peanuts. I believe that with the right synergy between the two key institutions (NAFDAC and the PCN), and the right attitude on the part of all stakeholders, fake drugs will gradually disappear from our environment.