Dr (Pharm) Albert Kelong Alkali is the immediate past national chairman of the Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria (ACPN), an umbrella body of all community pharmacists in Nigeria. In this exciting interview, shortly before the handover ceremony, Alkali in an emotion-laden voice recalls the highs and lows of his tenure. Excerpts:
You recently handed over as ACPN national chairman, after serving for the last three years. How many of the objectives that you set for yourself and your team were achieved?
To the glory of God, I believe we were able to achieve at least 90 per cent of the objectives we set for ourselves at the beginning of my tenure. We put together a four-point agenda and we were able to achieve it.
One of the objectives I set for my tenure was the fact that I was going to engage the media, and for the past three years I did that actively and robustly. I also stated that I would be taking care of the issue of the secretariat and we have moved to a brand new secretariat, with trained staff that are on pension schemes. Our Drug Information Centre (DIC) now has a new pharmacist, while the new secretariat has given us a good image and brand as an association.
I also stated that I would engage the regulatory agencies and we have done that. Over the last three years, we have been able to engage the NAFDAC meaningfully and we are getting results. We have a technical working group that raises issues and resolves them when they arise and the relationship between ACPN and NAFDAC is quite good.
I believe that it’s been a wonderful time and we’ve done our best for the association and we are hoping that those that have taken over will build on this and do more.
What were your greatest challenges and achievements while you were in office?
My greatest challenge is the fact that we were not able to get the Council to sanitise the practice area as we would have loved. PCN has said that this is due to the fact that they need to amend the laws; this issue however still poses a big challenge. Most of our members are worried and unhappy about the situation as the practice environment is still overrun with so many patent medicine vendors, unregistered premises and the open drug market. This situation in itself does not give room for professional practice and that is the biggest challenge I had.
Another challenge we faced is the economic situation. When we were coming in as executives, we came in under the shroud of economic depression; so it limited our projects and the input that many community pharmacists were able to give to the association. We wanted to get a land in Abuja but we were unable to, due to the financial constraints and I hope the new executives will look into that. But I am happy now that we have a befitting secretariat.
Another great achievement for me is the formation of the non-profit company called CP Nexus because it has the potential to maximise our practice and increase the income of the average community pharmacist, as well as enabling them to source for grants and carry out IT infrastructure and other things.
We were also able to operationalise COPA (Community Pharmacy Action), which had been lying fallow over the years and all efforts made to implement it had yielded no fruits; but we came on board and we were able to operationalise it. Presently, we have 17 pharmacies that are called COPA pharmacies; 15 of them are at COPA 1 status, while the remaining two are at COPA 3 status.
Is there a pending project that you would have loved to carry out before leaving as the national chairman?
One of the biggest things I wanted to do involves the NHIS – National Health Insurance Scheme. The NHIS, as far as I am concerned, has the greatest potential to change community practice in Nigeria and also has the greatest potential to deliver and ensure that patients get professional care from community pharmacists.
The scheme is such that prescription comes from health facilities to community pharmacies to be refilled and then community pharmacists get to carry out other pharmaceutical services. However, this scheme has not been carrying community pharmacists along and we are in the process of forming a proposal so that we can engage the top management of the scheme in dialogue and the PSN is also interested in this.
I had begun writing and putting certain data together for the proposal to be taken for discussion, involve more of our members in it and make the scheme successful. As the scheme is right now, we cannot say that it is succeeding because the coverage is not up to ten per cent. So, that is one thing I would have loved to do but was unable to. I urge the next executive to take it serious.
Many are of the opinion that, a fellow northerner, Pharm. Ahmed Yakasai, being at the helm of affairs of the PSN, contributed greatly to the success of your tenure. What are your thoughts on this sir?
Well, what I believe is that what we have seen over the years are massive collaborations and I don’t think it is because Pharm. Yakasai is from the north. I believe that we must be able to engage the president of PSN. Pharm Olumide was there and we never had any friction, Pharm Yakasai came in and we’ve had a good relationship. If they say that we have a very good working relationship, I agree. In fact, he calls me his pharmaceutical son and I respect him very much.
We have a very good understanding of each other. He gives me advice and I take it and I make demands from him that will complement my efforts and he does it. I do not think it is because we are both from the north. We have people that are from the same area and they fight all day and achieve nothing.
What are your thoughts on the recently held ACPN elections?
The ACPN I must say is the most democratic arm of the PSN, as far as democracy is concerned. Our annual general meeting is quite open and interactive. Our National Executive Council is also quite open. We raise issues and discuss them and in situations where you see people come unopposed for a position, it is because there is an understanding. When people see that you are competent to do a job, there is no need for them to go through unnecessary hassles to oppose you; after all, we are going in for service.
We tried as much as we could to make the process as transparent and just as possible to all candidates so that, at the end of the day, the people’s choice would emerge for the association.
What is your advice to the new national chairman of the association?
I urge the new national chairman to be focused. He should pay attention and listen to advice from people. He should study the handover notes that will be given to him carefully and come up with his own programmes. There is so much to be done and we have tried our best to lay a solid foundation, so that the new chairman can take the association soaring to greater heights.
I will be there, as the immediate past chairman, to give all necessary support and make sure he succeeds. If he remains focused and is able to do what he ought to do, then we can be sure that we will see three times more than what I was able to achieve.