There are new provisions in the Pharmacy Bill awaiting passage at the National Assembly which will strengthen the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN) and help transform pharmacy practice in the nation, Pharm. N.A.E. Mohammed, registrar of PCN has said.
Speaking with Pharmanews recently on the new bill, Mohammed disclosed that a major provision in it is clear mention of enforcement powers by the Council, stating that, before now, the Council could only derive such powers from the Poison and Pharmacy Act, Judicial Pronouncements, and PCN registrations 79 and 81 of 2005, in addition to the PCN Act of 1992.
The registrar noted that the clear mention of enforcement powers will further enhance the capacity of the Council to carry out its enforcement activities.
The Pharmacy Bill, Mohammed stated further, has also properly articulated the functions of the Council and will help promote and extend access to quality,s effective and affordable medicines, most especially for the under served areas through registered pharmacies, as well as address challenges of unethical practice.
He urged all pharmacists to support the Pharmacy Bill, stressing that those involved in drafting the bill were concerned only about the profession and the overall public health of the citizenry.
Below is the abridged text of the interview:
What informed the decision to sponsor a new Pharmacy Bill at the National Assembly?
There are a number of reasons that led to the decision to review the current Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN) Act 91 of 1992(Cap p17 LFN 2004). The fundamental consideration is the improvement of access to quality, safe, effective and affordable medicines in the country through licensed practitioners, registered premises and regulated practice, by targeting the underserved areas, empowering the professionals and ensuring efficient and effective pharmaceutical service delivery to the citizenry. The essence of this is to lessen the disease burden of the sick.
Other reasons include the need to have a name that is all-encompassing and which is also consistent with what is obtainable in other climes, such as United States of America, and especially in other commonwealth countries such as Britain, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa; hence the new name, Pharmacy Council of Nigeria. You would recall that even Nigeria previously used Pharmacy Board of Nigeria.
There is also introduction of appropriate sanctions, which are lacking in the current Act (even the fines contained in the Poison and Pharmacy Act, which are being operationalised by PCN, are outdated); reducing the chances of litigation to the Council and by extension to the Honourable Minister of Health and the federal government due to lacuna in the current Act; improving the efficiency of the governing council in decision making, etc.
However, it is important to state that the decision to review the PCN Act to address these issues predates my administration as registrar of PCN. The process started in 2010, which implies that it had passed through two successive administrations before this time.
The process also has received attention of two governing councils of PCN during this period. At a point, the governing council constituted a committee to holistically review the previous effort under the chairmanship of a former director of Food and Drug Services of the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) who is also a lawyer. The committee comprised representatives of PSN and all technical arms of PSN; representatives of directors of pharmaceutical services from states; Federal Ministry of Justice; representatives from the Legal Department of the Federal Ministry of Health; while PCN staff provided secretariat and also participated in the deliberations.
What are the new provisions in the draft Bill that will further strengthen Pharmacy practice?
Clear mention of enforcement powers of the Council in the primary statute is one major provision added to strengthen the Council. Prior to this time, Council derived these powers from the Poison and Pharmacy Act, judicial pronouncements, PCN Regulations 79 and 81 of 2005 in addition to PCN Act 91 of 1992.
Others include: proper articulation of the functions of Council; bringing all stakeholders on board (unlike the current Act that was brought into existence with a ‘regime protection’ model approach that ended up in ‘shooting’ the pharmacist in the foot and leaving other stakeholders unattended to); satellite pharmacy practice (SPP) model to promote and extend access to quality, effective and affordable medicines, most especially to the underserved areas (rural areas) through registered pharmacies network; provision for futuristic chain pharmacies; and addressing the challenges of unethical practice among others.
What was the level of pharmacy stakeholders’ inputs into the draft bill?
From the historical background given above, it is clear that pharmacy stakeholders actively participated in the process for the common good of Nigerians in general.
However, it is also important to add that the prestigious forum of Past Presidents of Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria met at the house of the former Minister of Health where they looked at the bill, clause by clause, in conjunction with the chairman of Nigeria Law Reform Commission (NLRC) and the commissioners of the Commission to put a final touch to the bill for the common good of Nigerians.
For emphasis, the NLRC is the agency of the federal government responsible for review and/or reformation of all laws of the Federation.
Let me, at this point, further inform you that the National Assembly, specifically the House of Representatives, had commenced review of certain sections of the current PCN Act even, without recourse to the Council. The process had reached second reading before the attention of PCN was drawn to it.
Similarly, it is important to add that the NLRC also identified PCN Act 91 of 1992(Cap p17 LFN 2004) among the laws due for review and had also commenced its review prior to this time. The Council officially requested for these processes to be halted and began the process of effective engagement and harmonisation of the various versions through several meetings with pharmacy stakeholders under the leadership of the PSN president and the immediate past chairman of the PCN Governing Council, Pharm. Bruno Nwankwo.
The Food and Drug Services of the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH), the Department of Legal Services of FMoH and representatives of the Federal Ministry of Justice were all involved in the drafting of the bill. All the past presidents of PSN, as stated earlier, then reviewed the final document.
Let me state very strongly and in clear terms that everyone involved in this process that lasted over six months took the best interest (present and indeed future) of the profession and practitioners in general into consideration, as well as the overall public health concern of the citizenry, before arriving at any conclusion.
The so-called ‘offensive’ section 27, among others, of the bill being disseminated all over the place has been discussed and agreed upon at various pharmacy fora and recently at the town hall meeting during the 2016 PSN annual conference in Minna, Niger State and changes were made.
I therefore wish to advise pharmacists that we should not allow the politics and unfounded fears of chain-pharmacism and their tapestries among others to becloud our sense of reasoning. We should avoid the use of ‘Big Lie’ theory to cause chaos and anarchy in the system, a common weapon of warfare amongst gladiators in the healthcare landscape.
The doors of PCN are open to anyone who has further contributions to make before the enactment of the bill.
What are you doing to ensure this bill is expeditiously treated and passed by the National Assembly?
The task before us to get the bill passed is very simple since it is for the common good of the citizenry. The National Assembly, particularly the House of Representatives, is interested and has started the process of reviewing the PCN Act.
I want to believe that it was still in a bid to fast-track the process that the House of Representatives passed a resolution in December 2016, urging the PCN to ensure that all unregistered pharmaceutical premises were closed down, while also ensuring improved access to quality, safe, effective and affordable medicines through registered premises.
I am also aware that the Senate is eagerly waiting to commence and conclude the process of the passage of the bill in record time.
A major challenge facing the pharma sector is not absence of laws but poor/non enforcement of relevant laws. How hopeful are you that the provisions in this bill will be enforced? Are there measures already in place to ensure this is done?
There is no gainsaying that though there are several laws that regulate the pharma sector, many of these laws are very porous and weak. Despite this challenge, you would have observed that several enforcement activities were undertaken in 2015 and 2016 by the PCN that resulted to the closing down of over 3,000 unregistered premises.
Similarly, through diligent efforts, several court cases were won in favour of the Council. All these are consistent with my four-point agenda of improving pharmacy practice through effective regulation.
The fundamental instrument of regulation is effective law. This is the essence of the review of the current PCN Act 91 of 1992 (Cap p17 LFN 2004).