Community Pharmacists Should get Paid for Services, not just Drugs – Okotie

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In this exclusive interview with Pharmanews, Pharm. Jonah Okotie, a 1998 pharmacy graduate of the University of Benin, Edo State, expresses concern over the state of healthcare delivery in the country, while urging pharmacists generally to live up to the standard expected of them as healthcare givers, rather than being excessively concerned about financial gain.

Okotie, who is the secretary, Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria (ACPN), Lagos State Branch, as well as being managing director, Engraced Pharmacy, Alimosho, Lagos, also speaks on the recent reports of mass failure in pharmacy schools and how the situation can be brought under control. Excerpts:

Tell us about your activities and responsibilities as the secretary, ACPN, Lagos State Branch.

Beyond the day-to-day responsibility of overseeing the secretariat, attending to correspondence and engagements in and out with concerned parties – ranging from members to government officials and other stakeholders that affect our practice – I know that working with my very proactive chairman, Pharm Olabanji Obideyi, I have no choice but to be ready for any responsibility that will guarantee members’ well-being, wherever and whenever.

What are the challenges that come with being the scribe of such an important association like the ACPN, especially in a state like Lagos, and what strategies have you been deploying to surmount them?

At the beginning of this administration, the chairman and I sat together to look at the challenges. We asked ourselves what needed to be done and how we were going to do it. The chairman himself was once a secretary of the association. In addition, it has been teamwork all the way, together with other members of the executive and the secretariat staff. It’s a team, not me alone.

Tell us about your pharmacy. How old is it today and how was it at the beginning?

The name of my pharmacy is Engraced Pharmacy and it’s going to be nine years this month. The beginning was truly very humbling. Besides, the fact that I had no pension or payoffs to start with made it tougher. So my first rent was a loan from my friend and big aunty, Sister Lara Fasoranti. My wife, Jimbia Okotie, also gave her all to see to it that it did not only become a reality but that it throve.

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Pharm. Jonah Okotie

What would you say informed the choice of location for your pharmacy?

I won’t say I made the choice. It was an opportunity I saw to own a pharmacy – although located a bit inside – which I took. And that brought the opportunity to be located by the bus stop, which was very good for the practice, until the place was sold and we were given only two months to relocate. By God’s grace we got where we are today. It could have been much worse, but we thank God that despite the odds we are here.

Tell us about your relationship with the people of this community and the most common health conditions that bring them to your pharmacy.

My relationship with my people is most cordial, including the medical practitioners and other health personnel around. Truth is I can’t say this ailment is the most common because every day we intervene – from malaria to high blood pressure, to children with referrals to hospitals, public and private.

Nigeria is not favourably ranked by the World Health Organisation (WHO) when it comes to adequate healthcare provision for the citizenry. What can we do as a nation to exit this ignoble rank and get our health sector back to shape?

First and foremost, the heads of government must understand and encourage healthcare as teamwork. A situation where one person wants to be everything is surely not in the best interest of the citizens of the country. Secondly, the attitude of our people to health services must change. They want services but are not ready to pay. Unfortunately, the health insurance that should have been a way to guarantee funding and encourage professionalism is run as a system set up only for medical doctors. Pharmacists are bystanders, according to the NHIS and the Lagos State Health Insurance Scheme. I guess the government of the day like it that way.

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The outbreak of coronavirus is currently a major health challenge in the world. What do you think Nigeria should do to prevent an outbreak in the country?

Increased health education and putting in place measures to guarantee preventive health practices. Nigeria is gradually becoming a “sleeping giant’; so it is high time we rose to not just our health needs, but that of the world. I don’t see the reason why we can’t position our petrochemical and cotton industries to begin to produce not only face masks but other needed pharmaceuticals to save lives and prevent diseases.

Compare to your days as a pharmacy student, what do you think is responsible for the challenge of “mass failure” among pharmacy students nowadays?

There is mediocrity at all levels. Until we go back to the old practice, where we appreciated and rewarded excellence, what we are seeing is a tip of the iceberg. Lecturers too must be supervised to see that they are doing what they were paid to do. Facilities that are in line with modern day realities such as equipment and tools with not only audio-visual capabilities, also artificial intelligence, should be the order of the day.

Another challenge is our maintenance culture. Our technological capabilities are far behind. Even the light situation is nothing to write home about.  It is time we wake up, as we can’t afford to continue to be docile. We have survived this far because we have been improvising at all levels. We can’t continue this way.

As an established community pharmacist, how lucrative is community pharmacy practice in Nigeria?

I was just talking about it earlier today with a colleague. Pharmacy practice is about professionalism. And payment ought to be made for services. Unfortunately, the community pharmacist’s services and activities are seen most times from the prism of merchandising, forgetting that we are dealing with medicines which, in most cases are poisonous, when misused, hence must be treated with care and given only when needed.

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Oftentimes, people leave the community pharmacist without a medication, just counselling and guidance, which is not paid for because it is believed the pharmacist has done nothing, forgetting that the ability to know when to and when not to use medications, is one of the things that characterises the community pharmacist.  So, by the Nigerian standard, community pharmacy is not lucrative. It only guarantees you a certain minimum, if you are well positioned.

Community pharmacy practice globally is being transformed in line with global trends, requiring practitioners to entrench professionalism and services above monetary gain, in order to achieve excellence in healthcare delivery.

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