In this incisive interview, Pharm. Jerome Onyisi Nwokoro, coordinator of the Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria, Ifelodun Zone, and MD/CEO, Jogen Pharmacy Nigeria Limited, Ajegunle, argues that community practice today is better than what it used to be. He also speaks on why young pharmacists shun community pharmacy, leaving the practice for the few old ones and the numerous charlatans. Excerpts:
How would you assess community pharmacy practice in Nigeria?
Community pharmacy practice is still developing. Although there are so many issues surrounding its development, the fact remains that it is developing. We have so many issues, ranging from the practitioners to other external factors, such as the economy – because whatever affects a sector of the economy affects every other aspect. And since community pharmacy is a service-oriented profession, whatever affects the economy will definitely affect the practice. But by and large, despite all the challenges and distractions, we can say that community pharmacy practice is developing in the country.
How do you see the practice today compared to when you started almost 20 years ago?
I can say, to an extent, that there is improvement in the practice, as community pharmacists are now more enlightened and knowledgeable about happenings in the health care sector and how to contribute to its development. Pharmacy today is no longer about drug dispensing. We now have pharmaceutical care, which affords the pharmacist opportunity to know his or her patients’health needs and ensure those needs are met.
As community pharmacists, we are the first port of call when people have challenges with their health, so we can say that people are now getting more awareness on whom a pharmacist is. I remember in those days, it was difficult for people to differentiate between a certified pharmacist and a drug seller; but today, things have changed, as people are more enlightened about the services a pharmacist can render and that alone shows that Pharmacy is developing.
We hope that with the revolution going on in the industry, pharmacy profession will be better than what we are even witnessing today; and with better law enforcement, quackery and drug faking which are our major challenges today will become history.
Tell us some of the challenges you have noticed in this profession and how they can be surmounted.
The challenges concern both external and internal factors. The first has to do with the challenge of drug faking and counterfeiting.If you go to our markets, whethersmall or large, you will see people putting drugs on their heads and some selling in trucks, and you will discover that there is no regulation at all. We had this same issue in the past and despite several efforts, the challenge is still there till today and it’s a major challenge to us as practitioners.
The internal factor has to do with us, the practitioners, as majority of our colleagues are running away from the profession in order to take up employment in money-spinning industries like telecommunication and banking, while some are even leaving the country. It is saddening that most of our young graduates are always after money, which is why they are running away from the community practice. It is not easy practising community pharmacy as the profession is not meant for those who want to make money as quickly as possible. There is money in community pharmacy practice, but the money comes in trickles. It is only those who are ready to endure that can practise at the community level.My fear for the practice is, what happens to it after the old ones have all gone?
Exactly how lucrative is community pharmacy?
Just like I said earlier, there is so much money in community pharmacy but there are sacrifices to be made to get the money. The sacrifices include perseverance, endurance, commitment and passion for the profession.
There was a time I obtained a postgraduate diploma in Finance from the University of Ibadan, but instead of abandoning community practice, I decided to apply the knowledge I had gained to the profession. This is what I called passion for one’s work. Although money is important, fulfillment is more important than money and that’s what community pharmacy gives you.
What keeps you going in this profession?
The fact that I have the opportunity to interact with people in my community, attend to their needs, offer services to them, solve their problems and put smiles on their faces is enough reason to give me joy.
Pharmacy itself is a profession that trains you to meet the need of people and offer them hope.And in doing these, you earn their trust and respect and you also become popular among them. In my community, they call me all sorts of names like pastor, doctor, daddy, etc., based on what I have done for them and how I have affected their lives. Those are the things that keep me going.
There was an instance when I was given a quit notice in one of my former apartments. People of that community rose up in my defence that the quit notice should not be effected. In fact, they were the ones who got another befitting apartment for me so as to keep me in the community. This shows how relevant and important I had been to them. As community pharmacist, you are a friend to everybody and this is what gives us joy.
What is your assessment of community pharmacy practice in Ajegunle community?
Community pharmacy, just like I said earlier, is still developing; and the same thing applies to Ajegunle community. There are many illegal outlets here. In fact, the majority of people in this community do not know the difference between a pharmacy and a drug vendor. These are some of the challenges we are facing. In fact, there are cases that a patient will come to me and I will recommend that all they need is rest and they will look at me with disbelief, expecting that I should have given them drugs instead. Of course, there are some who are enlightened and who appreciate our work and we are happy for that.
Another thing that distinguishes this community from highbrow areas is the purchasing power of most people here. In affluent areas, you will find out that there are some very expensive drugs that one can sell in those areas that you dare not sell in this area; so what we do is look out for those drugs that will sell more in our area. That’s what we do to survive here; however, our major challenge has always been fake drugs and quackery.
What are the major illnesses that bring people in this area to your pharmacy?
The major disease is malaria and the reasons are obvious. First, our dirty and non-conducive environment, which provide breeding ground for mosquitos. Second, the economic power of majority of our people also contributes to it as majority of them can hardly afford an insecticide-treated net; therefore, they are prone to mosquito bites.
Another common disease is sexually transmitted diseases (STIs), and the reason for that is as a result of several hotels and brothels around us which expose majority of people to unprotected sexual intercourse. So, malaria, sexually transmitted disease and, to some extent, skin infections are the major health challenges that bring people in this community to the pharmacy.