Pharm. (Mrs) Felicia Ebaide Oriaifo–Odaro is a Fellow of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (FPSN) and a former member of PCN governing council. In this incisive interview with Adebayo Folorunsho-Francis, the one-time national chairman of the Association of Lady Pharmacists (ALPs) expressed her views on the tremendous growth of the Nigerian pharmaceutical industry, as well as why she thinks the ‘register-and-go’ syndrome is tearing the profession apart. Excerpts:
Give us a glimpse of your early years
I attended the famous St. Teresa’s College, Oke–Ado, Ibadan, after my primary school education at the Ibadan City Council School, Mokola, Ibadan. I proceeded to the University of Ife, Ile-Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) to study Pharmacy. On graduation in 1973, I was posted to Jos, then Benue Plateau State as a corper. I belong to the group that started the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in Nigeria.
At the end of my service year, I joined the civil service of the then Mid-Western State as a Pupil Pharmacist with the Hospitals Management Board. I rose through the ranks to become Director of Pharmaceutical Services in Edo State, before being appointed Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health.
While in the service, I went back to school for a master’s degree in Pharmaceutical Technology at the University of London, United Kingdom. My postings included the State Medical Stores; Central Hospital; Bendel Pharmaceuticals; Hospital Management Board; and the Essential Drugs Project (EDP), Bendel and Edo. I served as Project Manager of the Essential Drugs Project, which enabled me to have several national and international interactions with colleagues and members of other professions.
Would you say, studying Pharmacy was a good decision for you?
Absolutely! I am happy and proud to belong to this profession.
What was the profession like in your day compared to today’s practice?
The profession remains more or less the same; but there have been improvements in the practice. Now, more attention is being paid to the patient. With the unit dose system, pharmaceutical care and patient counselling, patients get better attention from pharmacists than before.
In those days, relationship with the patient was through a hatch in the wall, through which medicines were passed out to the patient. Today, the patient is counselled and explanation on the use of each medicine is given to him.
The pharmaceutical industry also has grown tremendously. There are so many medicines today for treating of all manner of ailments. In academics, the curriculum for training of pharmacists has grown.
Were there some controversial issues and scandals in your time?
What comes to mind easily is the ‘register-and-go’ scourge. When the federal government (FG) gave approval for pharmacists to register premises, even while still in service elsewhere (i.e. ‘private practice’), many applauded it, thinking it was a good idea. Quite a number of pharmacists went ahead and gleefully hung their licences in shops which could not have passed as pharmacies. No one bothered about what went on in those premises. Some pharmacists signed blank order sheets for importation and procurement of all kinds of medicines by just anyone who had the funds.
When the same FG eventually came back and banned ‘private practice’ for pharmacists, the illegal practices could not be stopped. Our people had tasted the ‘forbidden fruit’ and so the rot continues even till today. Many pharmacists are still in the habit of ‘register-and-go’ which is highly injurious to the profession and the country as a whole.
What are the specific challenges facing pharmacy practice in Nigeria and how can they be surmounted?
The challenges are many and multifaceted. Laws regulating the use of medicines exist in Nigeria, as in other countries – good and well thought-out laws – but enforcement of these laws is inadequate or totally non-existent in our country. This is why anyone can walk into any shop that trades in medicines and buy any class of medicine, controlled or otherwise.
Enforcement of the existing laws is a good place to start. Policy guidelines are made, like the National Drug Distribution Guidelines (NDDG); but the implementation is stalled and so the challenge of open drug markets, an all-comers business, remains with us.
How best do you think the issue of fake drugs and counterfeit medicines can be curbed?
This is a global issue and so far, in Nigeria, the regulatory bodies – the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN), NAFDAC and SON are working in concert with the customs, the police, the judiciary, and even the citizenry, to control and contain this ‘monster’ of fake drugs and counterfeit medicines.
Since the trailblazing input of the late Pharmacist (Professor) Dora Akunyili as Director General of NAFDAC, awareness on the dangers of fake drugs and counterfeit medicines has been raised tremendously among the populace. I would say that offenders should be adequately and swiftly punished to act as deterrent. Medicine outlets should be controlled and appropriately regulated to block them from being used as outlets for fake drugs and counterfeit medicines. This brings us back to the issue of enforcement and implementation of existing laws and guidelines.
What is your view about pharmacists in politics?
Pharmacists in politics – yes, it is a good thing; after all, politics is for all of us and being a pharmacist should not disqualify one from having political views, interests or ambition.
To what extent have you been involved in pharmaceutical activities?
Ah! Since I set out to read Pharmacy, I have been involved in pharmaceutical activities, beginning with being an active member of the Pharmaceutical Association of Nigerian Students (PANS). After graduation, I served as financial secretary, public relations officer and later, vice chairman in the Bendel State Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), as well as being a member of the national privileges committee. I co-ordinated the state PSN’s end-of-year activities as chairman for many years.
I was also the national chairman of the Association of Lady Pharmacists (ALPS) from 1992 to 1995. I was a member of the governing council of the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN)for many years. I still remain an active member of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) and relevant technical groups.
Were there some major awards given to you in recognition of your meritorious service?
Yes!Many, for which I am grateful to God. I was made a Fellow of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria in the year 2000. I received three awards while serving as member of the governing council of the PCN. The Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria (ACPN) gave me an award in recognition of contributions made to the development of community practice in Nigeria, while serving as Director of Pharmaceutical Service (DPS). The Association of Lady Pharmacists (ALPS) also gave me an award in appreciation of contributions made towards the growth and development of ALPS as national chairman.
How do you see the annual PSN national conferences?
The PSN national conferences are the highlights of the Society’s activities during the respective years. The conference is a meeting point for pharmacists to interact, rub minds with one another and try to advance the profession. At the conference, you learn of new developments in the pharmacy world.
If you were not to be a pharmacist, what other profession would you have opted for?
I cannot imagine not being a pharmacist. Before I chose to read Pharmacy, I had all the chances in the world to read Medicine, Chemistry, Zoology, Biochemistry or Microbiology. Indeed, I should tell you that I come from a family of medical doctors and scientists. At least, three of my brothers are medical doctors and I could have easily followed them into the medical profession. Yet, I settled for Pharmacy because of my love for it.
Is there any particular age that an active pharmacist should retire?
I would say no. A pharmacist or anyone at that should remain active in whatever calling he chooses or enjoys, so long as he is not incapacitated by ill-health. It is generally believed that a human being should remain active till the end.
As an elder in the profession, what is your advice for young pharmacists?
Young and upcoming pharmacists should strive to uphold the ideals and integrity of the profession, avoid sharp practices and, above all, trust in God.