PSN Decries Non-Recognition of Pharmacists’ Roles in COVID-19 Response

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The Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), has berated government for failing to recognise the critical roles of pharmacists in the ongoing war against the novel coronavirus disease in the country.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with Pharmanews, the newly elected Chairman of PSN-Lagos State, Pharm. Gbolagade Iyiola said community pharmacists have been attending to visibly agitated and anxious members of the public, who besiege their facilities for counselling on COVID-19 prevention protocols and other care services

Listing the services being offered by pharmacists to curb the spread of the infection to include mass production of hand sanitisers, patient care and counselling in hospitals and communities, drug dispensing and others, the PSN leader in Lagos maintains that pharmaists’ intervention is 70 per cent of clinical disease states, which manifest in the public space globally.

Pharm. Gbolagade Iyiola

He also frowned at the very negligible number of volunteer pharmacists in the isolation centres, saying bed/remission time would have been lesser if more pharmacists had been employed in the centres to manage the COVID-19 patients. Below is the full text of the interview:

Congratulations on your assumption of office as the new Chairman of the PSN in Lagos State. How do you feel being the number one pharmacist in the state?

I consider it a great privilege and big honour. It is a right progression in the appropriate place. The reason is also not farfetched when you look at the quality of PSN Lagos which accounts for over 40 per cent of the entire membership of the PSN. Some, in fact, consider Lagos State branch as the alter ego of the PSN.

We, as members of the new Executive Committee, with me as the driver, appreciate the enormity and depth of the assignment at hand and we have resolved to deliver like our predecessors. When you look at the line-up of some our past chairmen – I readily recollect the likes of Pharm. Laide Osundeko, FPSN, who will join the ranks of octogenarians in a few weeks; the late Chief Abioye Oyetunji, FPSN, who later became a Honourable Member of the House of Representatives; and then the amiable duo of late Pharm. Jimi Adesanya, FPSN, who would have been president of PSN in 1997; Pharm. Jimi Agbaje, FPSN, who got to peak levels in national politics and who many still perceive as the best governor Lagos State may never see; my personal motivator, Pharm. Funso Fakulujo, FPSN, an effective mobiliser; to the one who needs no introduction, the indefatigable Pharm. Olumide Akintayo, FPSN who was the first branch chairman to emerge President of PSN. He was my principal because I served under his leadership as national secretary. He handed over to Pharm. Anthony Bola Oyawole, FPSN, another distinguished chairman who continues to influence us all with strategies.

We moved from Oyawole to the Baba himself, the ever lively Pharm. Lanre Familusi, FPSN, a thoroughbred PSNist, an old hand in the affairs of PSN Lagos since the early eighties. We also had Pharm. Akintunde Obembe, FPSN, a strong believer and actualiser of our branch’s cardinal philosophy and principles.

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In recent times, Pharm. Gbenga Olubowale, FPSN, put footprints in the sands of time as an achiever, by propelling our branch to new heights. I took over from the delectable and hard-working, Pharm. Bolanle Adeniran, the dynamic leader with the Midas touch, who is reputed to be the first female chairman of our branch.

You can see why we tick in Lagos and this puts some pressure on me in terms of deliverables, but we shall succeed because of the great shoulders I can afford to lean on.

Your emergence as the new chairman of PSN in Lagos State coincided with the outbreak of the COVID-19 a pandemic, with the state being the epicentre in the country. How has it been piloting the affairs of pharmacists in the state during this trying time?

Life comes in various chapters. Leadership demands that we turn challenges into opportunities and this we must do, COVID-19 or other disease. The COVID-19 pandemic is a leveller, with regards to its ravaging impact, as it does not discriminate between the first and the third worlds. We continue to encourage pharmacists in all strata. It is a shame that government and the media refuse to acknowledge the silent but extremely critical role of pharmacists in this state in the COVID-19 season.

My colleagues in the industry and some hospitals continue to manufacture all the hand sanitisers, Vitamin C, and other essential drugs that are used to boost wellness and manage COVID-19 in Nigeria, but nobody acknowledges their efforts and roles. More tragic is the unrecognised gallantry of community pharmacists who are the true frontline health workers because their intervention in 70 per cent of clinical disease states, which manifest in the public space globally. These community pharmacists are the first port of call for those who want to access healthcare anywhere in the world, including Nigeria.

It is also noteworthy to mention that community pharmacies were attending to visibly agitated and anxious members of the public who trooped into their facilities for counselling on COVID-19  prevention protocols and other care services.

This was at a time when the doors of most care centres were being shut against them. The level of their risks, which also affects their families, when all sorts of clients visit their pharmacies, is better left imagined because government provides no personal protective equipment (PPE) for them.

Government at all levels must realise that the healthy living and wellness strategies put in place by community pharmacist is what has saved Nigeria from a calamitous COVID-19 experience.

Please, do note that I acknowledge divine intervention first before human efforts in all of these. Despite the frustrations and poor perception of the role of pharmacists, my colleagues have resolved to continue to work ethically to preserve lives in Lagos State and beyond.

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For your tenure of three years, what are your goals for the association and members?

The strength of the PSN Lagos remains the continuum we have in leadership style and outlook. Our executive committee will not depart from this noteworthy style. We have resisted all attempts to destabilise the Lagos State branch by relying on God and the cooperation of our teeming membership.

We shall continue to pursue the welfare policy of our forebears. Our trustees, populated by past chairmen, manage a trust fund which is structured to bring succour to the families of departed colleagues who are our financial members. We shall pay the family of one of such departed colleagues N1 million before month end for faithfully obliging financial responsibilities to our branch in the last 3 years.

We shall continue the PSN Lagos Identity Card Scheme, with slight amendments, to boost inherent benefit package to our members. The Pharmacy Villa project will be delivered under our watch. Pharm. Olumide Akintayo built up the first phase in a record 78 days from December 2004 to 8 March, 2005 when he exited. These included modest furnishing to leave a legacy of a property valued at N75 million in 2005.

Oyawole, who bought the second plot where the new phase is sited, is on record to have laid the foundation of the structure, which Familusi, Obembe and Olubowale all combined to take to an advanced stage.

My predecessor, Pharm. Adeniran, despite dwindling resources, virtually completed physical work on the new phase through sheer determination and doggedness, which we all respect. It is to Pharm. Adeniran’s credit that we now have a property currently valued at about N300 million.

Our executive committee is set to fix necessary outstanding issues, including a terrace in the old wing, to accommodate a foyer for car park on the ground floor and an enhanced lounge of the first floor.

Let me also thank Pharm. Adeniran for equipping the edifice with befitting ultra-modern furniture and especially the 120 KVA power generating set, which is unique in the entire PSN space. Today, we have buses and vehicles to assist the PIC/PCN operations.

I will champion the fulfilment of the dream of the founding fathers of Pharmacy Villa to make it a revenue-yielding venture through events hosting and other outstanding.

I insist on better practice techniques as we strategise to work with PCN, NAFDAC, SMoH, NDLEA and other strategic regulators. There are a range of other programmes which time will not permit me to spell out their details here.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic in the state, a lot has been happening in the healthcare delivery system and to health workers. How would you describe the response of the state government to the pandemic, and what grey areas would you want to be improved?

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Permit me to salute the sagacity of Lagos State Government (LASG), given the response time to the totality of emergencies in our peculiar health system. Governor Sanwo-Olu has matched the commendable heights his predecessors took governance to in Lagos State. The LASG has put on display the best output relative to all the state governments and even federal government. I am informed that the Ekiti State Government is also doing well in the management of COVID-19, but Lagos still leads the way.

However, despite the many firsts of LASG, there are still a few drawbacks in its handling of the pandemic. First, the very negligible number of volunteer pharmacists in the isolation centres is lamentable. Let me say, with a deep sense of conviction, that bed/remission time would have been lesser if you had more pharmacists in those centres to manage the complications of drug/disease interaction profile, which is commonplace in the management of COVID-19.

Secondly, the LASG, because of the peculiarity of the state as the epicentre of coronavirus, would have led the way in private sector collaborations with community pharmacies and private medical laboratories, as we witnessed in the UK, USA and even nearby Ghana, in the provision of rapid diagnostic kits to improve the wretchedly slow pace of testing, which is still less than 50,000 nationwide. We cannot win this war, if we continue to rely on only tests within the ambit of public sector facilities.

Thirdly, In the post COVID-19 era, LASG must prove that our state is indeed the Centre of Excellence by embracing international best practices in healthcare. We must build new competencies and capacities in our health system. Governor Sanwo-Olu must be bold to distrust the status-quo of “senior” and “junior” partners in the health system.

In May 2018, the LASG approved the consultancy cadre for pharmacists in the public sector, but this was suspended on the prompting of the president and national executive council of the Nigerian Medical Assoaciation (NMA) who put pressure on former Governor Ambode to rescind the approval of the consultancy cadre.

I recollect, with sadness, the role played by the former Commissioner for Health in Lagos State in that inglorious era. The beat goes on for as long as Governor Sanwo-Olu is yet to reverse this in public interest.

COVID-19 has shown the world that indeed science and technology can fail. Our human development mechanism must therefore appreciate and adequately compensate added qualifications and expertise, which add value and boost the quality of healthcare in a country, which is ranked 187 out of 191 health systems.

Governor Sanwo-Olu must fund the Lagos State University to have a Faculty of Pharmacy and do same in other health professions, where training is presently non-existent, in our bid to build competencies and capacities in a post COVID-19 dispensations.

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