Pharm. Obideyi Olabanji Benedict is the secretary, Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria (ACPN), Lagos State Chapter and the Managing Director, Newton Pharmacy.
In this interview with Pharmanews in Lagos, recently, he spoke on the achievements of the immediate past administration of ACPN, Lagos State Chapter, which he said the new administration is leveraging on, and some of the achievements of the present administration.
He also spoke on some challenges facing the pharmacy practice in Nigeria and what government should do to curb the excesses of the charlatans and traders who, according to him, have hijacked the practice from the professionals.
Below is the full text of the interview:
I am Pharm. Obideyi Olabanji Benedict. I am a pharmacist by profession and I was born five decades ago. I hail from Ibadan, Oyo State, and I read pharmacy at the University of Ibadan; I also have a Masters degree in pharmacology from University of Lagos.
How would you assess pharmacy practice in Nigeria?
Pharmacy practice in Nigeria, as we have it now, is not the way it is supposed to be. The profession has being hijacked by traders from the professionals and that, to me, was because the laws we have on ground are not encouraging. Take, for instance, the drug market in Idumota; there has been a pending case between them and Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN) for close to fifteen years now, and what they got since then was injunction, restraining PCN from implementing the existing pharmacy law with regards to how they practise, and I know that this is a delay tactic to allow them have their way. So, the case is still ongoing and I believe that, at the end of the day, pharmacists would triumph.
Meanwhile, the pharmacy laws that are on ground are outdated. A situation whereby somebody commits an offence and some of the penalties are that the person should pay ten naira, twenty naira; those laws are due for review. So, those are some of the factors that are making pharmacy practice not to be the way it ought to be; and when we talk about the pharmacy practice, it depends on which facet of pharmacy practice we are looking at. We have hospital pharmacy, we have community pharmacy, we have industrial pharmacy, we have academic pharmacy and we have people in government service.
Let’s take hospital pharmacy for example: I would say, to an extent, there has been an improvement. The hospital pharmacists are doing well. Clinical pharmacy is being practised well and now we have pharmacists working well with doctors, in contributing their own quotas to patient care, and the orientation has changed from a product based pharmacy practice to patient based pharmacy practice as we have it now. Gone are the days when there used to be disharmony between pharmacists and doctors, but there is a lot of improvement now. Doctors now listen to corrections from other practitioners and that is good for the practice.
Meanwhile, talking about community pharmacy, I wouldn’t say there are lots of improvements; and this is due to the fact that the existing laws are outdated. Take this Iba zone I am in, for example: I am the only registered pharmacist here in this zone, and I can say authoritatively that majority of pharmacies in Lagos State, not this zone alone, are not registered. Even some that are registered are on the basis of register and go; where the pharmacist just drops his license and he doesn’t stay there, while majority of them are not even registered. When you look at the fact that the registration is at a cost, one has to pay for an annual license, for some dues at PSN and ACPN, if I have more than one premises, I have to engage another pharmacists to be at the second premises, who will earn salary and also must be registered. But in a situation whereby some community pharmacists are not doing that, they have liberty to sell at any rate. Also, since they are not registered, they don’t see themselves as being answerable to Pharmacists Council of Nigeria, so they are at liberty to stock anything. After all, if there is any complaint, as a result of what they sell, the patient has nowhere to report them to.
There are lots of costs that are incidental on that registration, which they are not incurring, and because of that, they do all sorts of things. If a drug expires, for example, they won’t remove the drug from the shelf, because they don’t even know the implication of selling expired drugs. They can sell at ridiculously low prices and, because of that, you would see a customer, who ordinarily should have come to me, going to those places and they now get their fingers burnt. They would then come back to me. One thing about our practice is that, there is a professional aspect and there is the business aspect. If you are not doing well, business wise, it would have negative impact on the professional aspect, because the money would not be there to stock, as expected of you.
In your view, what percentage of Community Pharmacies is registered in Lagos State?
If we consider those in Idumota market and other places like that also, I don’t think we would be more than fifty per cent.
How would you assess the last administration of Lagos State ACPN executives?
In fact, one of the reasons why I opted to serve in this administration was because of the effort that the last administration made. They have done excellently well in most areas. In fact, the immediate past ACPN chairman, Pharm. Felix Ameh, is like a mentor to me. I saw the zeal with which he was carrying out the professional matters, the activities of the association and the rest. So, he is somebody that really challenged me so much, and it was the part of the reason why I opted to serve. He motivated somebody like me to develop interest in serving ACPN.
So far, how would you assess the present administration?
Well, so far, so good. I think we are leveraging on what the past administration did. There have not been many new things yet and that has been the practice in ACPN. You leverage on what the last administration did. Meanwhile, we have one or two new things that we did. The World Pharmacy Day, which was not in place previously, and also the last Continuing Education Programme, which took place in December at NECA House, were total deviations from what used to be, in the sense that the current exco looked at it from the perspective that since it is an educative programme, we deviated a bit by making it a scientific conference of such. It was a mini conference and gifts were shared, and we had lectures from resource persons, and at the end of that programme, majority of our colleagues indicated that they were well impressed by what we have done so far; but that is not to say that the ones they had been doing in the past were not perfect. We only tried to improve on them.
Meanwhile, we have a lot of programmes in stock that we are going to unfold, as the year progresses, and one of those programmes is getting a universal identity card for our members. The identity card is meant to protect our members from being harassed by police, whenever they carry drugs in transit, because police men in Nigeria do not even know the difference between pharmacists and the quacks. As far as they are concerned, we are all drug sellers, so the identity card was introduced to carve a niche for ourselves. Meanwhile, the identity card would be for registered members only, and not for those who would register and go, because with the identity card, we can identify our members from the non-members.
We are also thinking of having ACPN Retreat, although, no day has been fixed for that yet, and the idea about the retreat is that we want the executives to sit down and plan ahead for the association. We look at how many social events are we going to have, how many meetings are we going to have, and committees shall be constituted for those purposes. The whole idea is to enable us sit down and plan ahead, rather than using the fire brigade approach. We would also have ample opportunity to agree and disagree on so many things before the date of any event.
How cordial is the ACPN relationship with Lagos State Government?
It is very cordial and that’s one of the credits I will give to the last administration. In the area of tax for example, they have done so well, and we are leveraging on that now. Before the parley between the administration of Pharm. Felix Anieh and Lagos State Government, our members suffered several harassments from Lagos State Board of Internal Revenue. They gave our members outrageous amounts to pay as tax, all in the name of pay as you earn (PAYE) system. So, as we speak today, our members are relieved, as far as tax is concerned. Even at the last general meeting we had, the Director of Tax from Lagos State Board of Internal Revenue was present, and they addressed and educated us the more on tax issues. It also gave our members opportunities to ask questions and they were answered.
Also, immediately this administration was sworn in, we had a meeting with the Commissioner for Health, Lagos State, and the meeting went well. So, the relationship has being cordial, but one of the things we are again looking at, this year, is to see how we can solidify the relationship by paying a courtesy visit to key government officials, and if possible, the Lagos State Governor, to see what and what we can do, to see how we can key in to the good works Fashola is doing in Lagos State.
How lucrative is running a Community Pharmacy?
If we are looking at financial benefits alone, it is not a practice that can make you a millionaire overnight, like our politicians, because it is a community service, and I am an example. I have had cause to manage some patients who did not have money to go to hospitals. I treat them of diseases like diabetes, hypertension etc, and one of them is still owing me, as I am taking, and he keeps on promising.
So, in as much as it is a community service, you would not want the patient to die of the ailment, or on account of not having money; and one way or another, you would have to help such people. Also, some categories of drugs do expire on our shelves. I personally have a lot of those drugs that I have disposed off, but that has not discouraged me from stocking such drugs. So, if you look at it from these perspectives, I won’t say it is a practice that can turn one to a millionaire overnight, but rather it gives you joy seeing the person you have rendered service to, who has been very sick and you assisted; and when you see that kind of person, you would be happy to say you were part of those who made her to be alive, through your pharmaceutical help.
Finances have been the major problem our colleagues face, and this has restricted them from practising the way they would have loved to. But let’s just say pharmacy is evolving. Although, if all the charlatans and the quacks could be cleared off from the practice, then pharmacists would begin to get the dividends for the practice they are involved in; but it’s not really profitable, as such. But this does not mean that one would be poor. If you do it well, you won’t be poor.