By Pharm. Ifeanyi Atueyi
I am uniquely blessed to have attended PSN annual national conferences from 1973 to 2013 without interruption. During this period, I had the opportunity of serving as Editor-in- Chief, National Secretary, unofficial executive committee member, chairman and member of several committees for a total period of 17 years. I also had the privilege of delivering the keynote address in Bauchi 2004. I have, therefore, closely followed the trend of our conferences and can make some informed observations.
In the early days, precisely the 70s and 80s, the conferences were truly scientific, professional, and dignifying, in all aspects. The scientific session, in particular, was a forum for the then faculties of pharmacy to present their research works. The contributions of the academics were monumental and very educative.
I recall clearly that exhibitions started with a few pharmaceutical companies that had new products in their stable. Well-trained product managers and medical representatives made the presentations in their booths. Samples were professional ones and not for sale. They were produced and labelled as such. When more companies developed interest in exhibitions and started giving sales stock as samples, only registered participants, who had ‘sample cards’ issued by PSN, were attended to.
Then there were the delightful cultural shows, which were both regular and refreshing. In fact, it was actually the cultural shows and tours of peculiar places of interest that made one to remember the conference. For example, I cannot forget the Bagauda Lake in Kano 1974, the Yankari Game Reserve in Bauchi 1986, and the Atilogwu dance in Enugu 1991.
Moreover, the climax of the conference used to be the Closing Banquet. With strong presence and support of the state government, specially invited guests, police band, sumptuous dinner and pleasant toasts, the night became memorable. A main feature of the Closing Banquet was the reading of the Communiqué. In my positions as Editor-in- Chief and National Secretary, I was very much involved in the Communiqué. The Communiqué committee had a very busy time throughout the conference to get it ready for the Closing Banquet.
These and many other striking features made the conferences worth anticipating and remembering.
Certainly, a lot has changed about PSN conferences over the years. On a positive note, there has been a steady increase in the number of participants at the conference, which indicates a cheering rise in the number of pharmacists in the country.
That aside, funding of the conference has also improved tremendously, compared to what it used to be. For instance, when I was the Editor-in- Chief (1974 -1978), the revenue generated from adverts in the journal was a major source of income to the Society. Today, exhibitions, product presentations, sponsorships, goodwill messages and adverts in the conference programmes have become robust sources of income.
Also, there has been introduction of a few innovative ideas, such as the authorisation of commercial photographers who, during conferences, take snapshots and produce the photographs instantly for participants. During the last conference, I noted at least 10 accredited photographers in the hall. They provided good and indispensable services.
I must not fail to mention that the election of PSN Fellows experienced the greatest crisis at the 1987 conference in Sokoto. Up to that time, the list of the nominees approved by the National Council was presented to the AGM for consideration and ratification. Unfortunately, a clique sowed a seed of confusion in the minds of some members and the process was completely frustrated. Fortunately, this incident led to exclusion of the AGM from the election of Fellows. The decision of the National Council is now simply presented to the AGM. This, also, is a good development.
However, it should be noted that these positive developments are significantly outweighed by the extent of anomalies that have, in recent years, continued to blight the brilliance associated with the conference.
To begin with, there seems to be nothing academic in our conferences anymore. The only semblance of academic input are commercial presentations by pharmaceutical companies.Expectedly,most of the presentations are biased.
Again, young pharmacists of today would find it hard to imagine a PSN conference without exhibitions.But it may interest them to know that, in the beginning, there were no exhibitions, no product presentations, and no company sponsorships. And even though conferences were not as bubbling or lucrative as they are today, they were professionally and economically managed.
That aside, I think the number of presentations during sessions of the conference these days is so high that they are beginning to constitute a nuisance.Granted that more income is being generated, but some precious values of the conference are being speedily eroded.
Furthermore, apart from the fact that companies attending conferences in recent times load their vans with sales stock, the whole conference venue has become a vibrant market for all sorts of articles. Petty traders now invade the entire premises. Some participants spend most of their conference time doing business with the companies.
Commercialisation has taken the shine away from the opening session. Product presentations have brought in money but have also destroyed the glamour, peace and joy of the session. The presenters are even frustrated sometimes because they try in vain to get the attention of participants who are busy chatting and greeting themselves. The greatest mistake that could be made is slotting in an important paper during that noisy period, as was done this year for NAPPSA presentation. Nobody cared to listen to the lady from Atlanta, USA.
For the photographers, while it is true that they render good services, their mode of delivering such services is at best appalling as they constantly contribute to the disorganisation of the event by jostling to sell their photographs during sessions.
Also, cultural shows which used to be the pride of the hosting state are fast disappearing, as they are constantly relegated to the background.
To restore the glory of the conference and make it what it is supposed to be in purpose and pattern, the following recommendations should be considered:
1. The Nigerian Association of Pharmacists in Academia (NAPA) should resurrect as a technical section of the PSN and demonstrate its presence as other sections during our conferences.
2. The PSN can decide to accept only the number of presentations it can effectively accommodate.
3. Activities of photographers in the hall should be controlled. A booth should be provided for them outside to sell their photographs.
4. Documentation of our conferences should be done regularly for record purposes. The year/date, city/state, theme and keynote speakers, etc., should all be noted.
It has been said that change is constant. Therefore, the quality and features of our conferences must be changing. But such changes must be desired improvements. Professionalism and commercialism should have their rightful places. We must bear in mind the principle of Constant And Never-ending Improvement (CANI). This should be the watchword in all our subsequent conferences.
Ifeanyi Atueyi KSC, FPSN, FPCPharm., FAPharm.