Pharm. (Dr) Obalolu Ojo, popularly called Lolu Ojo by his admirers, is the managing director of Merit Healthcare Limited. Ojo, a former national chairman of Association of Industrial Pharmacists of Nigeria (NAIP) and Fellow of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (FPSN), Nigeria Academy of Pharmacy (FNAPharm) and West African Postgraduate College of Pharmacists (FPCPharm) is one of the presidential aspirants in the upcoming PSN election holding in November, in Ibadan, Oyo State.
In this interview with Pharmanews, Ojo who has served the PSN and its technical arms in different capacities for years, speaks on the various challenges facing pharmacy practice in Nigeria and how his nine-point agenda, articulated in his manifesto, will help in surmounting these challenges and make Pharmacy the most ennobling profession in Nigeria. Excerpts:
What prompted your nine-point agenda as espoused in your manifesto and what is the philosophy behind your quest for the PSN presidency?
To answer your question. what informed our nine-point agenda can be seen in our purpose statement. We are not in this race because we just want to be part of the routine practice of choosing a president every three years. That is why we have the purpose statement in our manifesto.
We are inspired by the challenges of the practice environment and have boldly decided to make Pharmacy the most respected, recognised, trusted and ennobling profession in Nigeria.
First, let me state that we all know that our healthcare sector in Nigeria is nothing to write home about. I don’t have to say much about this because I know that you have also been writing about it. We have one of the worst health indices in the world. In some cases, we are closer to Sudan, Somalia and Libya in health indices. These are countries that have gone through or are still going through serious upheavals and wars. And despite the fact that Nigeria’s last civil war was in 1970, about 48 years ago, we are still at the level of peoples and nations in war zones.
So, the question is what do we do? We know that if the entire healthcare system stinks, there is no way Pharmacy will not be affected, and it is affected. Our purpose is that we have decided to take our destiny in our hands and raise the level of Pharmacy to global standards – so that we can give our people the best pharmaceutical services. People should be able to say proudly that Pharmacy in Nigeria benefits the people. At the end of the day, that is what is important. We believe that our imagination, resourcefulness and perseverance is going to help us.
We know that there are challenges in the environment, but these challenges have inspired us to work hard to make this profession one of the most respected as it is one of the most trusted; and for practitioners, the most ennobling. Practitioners must feel good about the profession.
What is your number one agenda?
Our number one agenda is that we are going to defend the profession. A lot of encroachment into the pharmacy space has occurred in recent times. We are going to resist that. We are also going to repackage the profession as service to the people so that people will see a pharmacy as not just a place where they can buy drugs, but as a healthcare centre, where they can get care and be educated about their health.
Let me also state that the Society itself, PSN, needs to reach out to its members. Every year, they pay annual dues and are asked to come and do one thing or the other for PSN. We need to ask the hard questions. Is the Society making impacts on the life of members and practice? So, I ask myself, can’t we reach these members? We have just about 8,000 active pharmacists all over the country. So, we have to account for everybody. We will not allow anybody to sit on the fence or be outside the fence. Pharmacists must see PSN as an organisation serving them.
We have cases of our interns roaming the streets, looking for placement. The PSN will stop that. Within the first year of our administration, we should be able to create more internship centres. How are we going to do that? It is a matter of reaching out.
Our third agenda is to make our community pharmacy practice better. Our community pharmacies, as I said earlier, need to become health points, providing care and thriving as businesses. I have tried, without even being the president of PSN, to bring up a company called Ultra Logistics Limited and that vision is still alive. We are going to see how the organisation can work to benefit community pharmacists.
Another issue is regulation. Most pharmacies and pharmacists abide by the regulatory control of the government agencies, but there are so many people who are doing pharmacy business but not abiding by regulatory control. This creates unhealthy competition and atmosphere, and we are determined to address that issue.
For our colleagues in hospital setting, in our fourth agenda, we have identified two things to be done. First, the recognition and relevance of pharmacists in the hospitals must be established. We shall deploy measures necessary to ensure that is done – be it advocacy or even through the courts.
Pharmacists in the hospitals must be given their due recognition. But, in this regards, what is important is relevance. We must find a way to ensure that medication therapy management is established in the hospital. This will make the doctors to see pharmacists as partners and not competitors.
We are going to adopt modelling approach. We shall chose the best hospitals in Europe or America where the synergy of operation is being done and send our people there, both doctors and pharmacists. When they come back, they will come and model it in one or two hospitals here in Nigeria so that everyone will see the benefits when doctors and pharmacists work together.
Our fifth agenda is a focus on the young pharmacists. We are going to bridge the gap between training and practice. We are going to ensure that no young pharmacist is roaming the street. We shall establish an employment bureau that will help tackle this issue and the YPG will be engaged and involved in all our programmes.
For the industry, we shall deploy the PSN platform to improve industrial pharmacy. Why is it that it is drugs that people buy and don’t want to pay? Even when government buy drugs, they owe for several months. This is wrong.
Looking at manufacturing, about 80 per cent of our drugs are imported; only about 20 per cent are produced locally. Despite that, we have only about 42 per cent capacity utilisation in the manufacturing industry. That means we have 58 per cent capacity that is idle. PSN will step in and encourage discussion between the importers and manufacturers to see how we can build a synergy and ensure we can do what we call vertical expansion – that is, make use of the existing facilities for production in the country and then do horizontal expansion by bringing in new manufacturing facilities. This will help create jobs and opportunity for training.
Patronage is also very important and we shall engage the government to ensure that whatever is being produced locally must be purchased and paid for. Government is the highest buyer and also the highest debtor. We must tackle this challenge to grow the industry.
I also feel the pain of our colleagues in academia. We have to work out how they will enjoy the benefits of being pharmacists. This can be through the salary they are paid, through the opportunity they have to work in the hospital, through the opportunities they have to work on their own, like it is being proposed with the concept of satellite pharmacy, or even through research.
As NAIP national chairman, you were able to work with most of the other technical arms of Pharmacy on some ideas. How beneficial were these and could much more be achieved at the national level if all the pharmacists and technical arms work in synergy?
Let me first state that it was a decided approach. It was not an accident. I knew that we had to work together. There is a principle that says there is no height you cannot attain as long as you are ready to share credit. That was what I was preaching to my colleagues at that time.
I know there has been a lot of divisions, perhaps because of election. I was not expecting it but I have decided that we shall remain professional and when November 2 comes, and the Lord give us victory, we shall talk to ourselves and work tougher.
What are your thoughts on how to solve the problem of unhealthy rivalry among healthcare professionals?
It is a pity that we are still at this level of rivalry in the health sector. Thank God for the approach of the current PSN president. We now even have a committee on interprofessional issues headed by Sir Atueyi. Some people still believe that it is “fight to finish” that should be the way to go. For me, I think we shall need a mixture of these two measures.
My motto for this year is that: May the Lord give us inspirations of new solutions to old and new problems. So, while we are going to defend our profession with all legal means possible and available, we shall also ensure that the window of talk remains open. And I know that there are doctors who are not happy with what is happening but they are the silent majority, while the vocal minority are the ones being heard. We are going to reach out to the silent majority and I believe we can have a fruitful talk and make progress.
What are your thoughts on the programmes of the outgoing president, Pharm. Ahmed Yakasai?
Alhaji Yakasai has done very well for the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria. I use to tell him that he is running an intense presidency. Intense in the sense that his activities are almost like an everyday affair.
What that has done is that it has pushed the PSN into the consciousness of the people, not just pharmacists.
He believes so much in advocacy and he is getting result from it. Even though advocacy is a slow process, he is getting result. In terms of rating, I will give him an A. He has done very well. What we need to do going forward is that all those roads that have been opened by his advocacy we need to put substantial measures in place to exploit the benefits there for Pharmacy.
We need to have strategies in place to get our demands across. When we talk to the presidency, what exactly are we saying? I don’t want us to become a complainant organisation. Therefore, we have to go with packages that will be of interest to the Nigerian society. We should be talking to the presidency on how we can package Nigeria to be relevant to the pharmaceutical world. If that is done, that will invariably impact on pharmaceutical practice in Nigeria.