It must not be lost on us – the fact that Community Pharmacists are at a strategic vantage position to contribute to nation building, as well as making the health sector to function better. Pharm. (Mrs.) Amaju Ezenduka is a community pharmacist operating in Warri, Delta State where she is also saddled with the responsibility of public enlightenment on behalf of the Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria (ACPN) in that part of the country. She bares her mind to PharmaTimes Editor, MORGAN NWANGUMA, on what she terms a chaotic situation in Delta State, and the nation at large.
In nation building everyone has a duty or role to play. The community is where social interactions of all sorts take place at the grassroots. The community is where you mingle with the masses; it is the root of every aspect of societal advancement or deterioration for that matter. In the same token, it is at the community levels that health delivery begins to spiral to whatever the larger society will later become as what would be termed the health of the nation.
In Delta State, the local people are in for a big deal as the Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria (ACPN) has been making inroads to better the lot of the health of the communities in which they operate. But something that seems like a cog in the wheel of progress continues to agitate the minds of most of Delta State-based community pharmacists. As this writer accosted the amiable Pharm. (Mrs.) Amaju Ezenduka on this matter, she just could not hold back her disdain for the anathema that the patent medicine dealers in the state have become. And as the officer in charge of public enlightenment, she looks forward to so much that can be achieved in straightening out the environment in the pharmaceutical health care, with Edo State as a case in point.
Pharm. Ezenduka was at the recently held 36th edition of ACPN Annual National Conference in Jos, where she showed herself a worthy ambassador and champion for sanitising the atmosphere for effective health care delivery in Delta State. But she says the recurring quagmire of the local patent medicine dealers group have continued to constitute a pain in the neck. These set of people “who are not schooled in any way relating to drug use and health delivery” have formed themselves into a powerful force – standing against the professionals as well as the efforts of the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN) to instil sanity in the business of drug distribution and dispensation.
But instead “we became like a reproach; they (patent medicine dealers) would gather at street corners and roundabouts, demonstrating against us – asking pharmacists to leave them alone! Now, imagine that we, who are the professionals became the fools,” Ezenduka said. By the look of things, suspicions are rife that even the powers that be may be conniving with this group of non-professionals to thwart the efforts the pharmacists have been making; many of them have mustered enough funds to be able to influence even covert actions. But what representations have the body of community pharmacists in Delta made to the authorities concerning this problem. Professionally speaking, these people are (like) gate crashers in this business?
Ezenduka completely feels that their wings ought to be clipped as they tend to be dominating the scene in Delta State. Sadly enough she seems to have lost faith in the authorities in curbing the excesses of the patent medicine dealers. “I believe rather in using public enlightenment to overcome this problem. Many Nigerians are ignorant; you might think they are educated, but they are ignorant. They don’t even know who a pharmacist is, or the difference between a pharmacist and a patent medicine dealer,” she asserts. But again, the patent medicine dealers are obviously playing an essential role in that they seem to be closest to the people in the rural communities.
There seems also to be a huge shortage of pharmacists, leading to the overwhelming presence of these set of ‘medicine dealers’. “No, I don’t really think so! Perhaps in the rural areas; it is true that there is a gap in the presence of pharmacists and so the patent medicine dealers come in very useful in those localities. But in the overall, I wouldn’t say there is a shortage of qualified pharmacists to serve the community,” she retorted.
So, what is the solution to all these? The pharmacist thinks that, “truly, if we can have more presence of professional pharmacists in the rural areas things might just be different.” She also believes strongly that the drug distribution network is the problem, trusting that if the open drug market system is abolished the problems would have been solved. She opines that drugs should not be directly placed in the hands of people who do not know much about medicines so that only pharmacists should be the ones to take hold of drugs in the distribution chain while they in turn make them available to the patent medicine dealers who should be made to work directly under the pharmacists.
Part of the problems too, according to her, is that here in Nigeria, “we are not organised and laws are not enforced, and people easily get away with anything. In any society where people go scot free with crime there is bound to be chaos; that is another type of animal farm situation, and this is where we are as a nation.” But her only grouse is that this chaos should cease; the activities of the patent medicine dealers should be regulated, and properly educated in the handling of what they are dealing in.
In the first place these people have no business dealing in prescription drugs, yet she says this keeps going on everywhere. “When I first went to Onitsha I was utterly embarrassed by what I saw! Why should we the pharmacists for instance, be made to bend backwards, stoop so low to patronise somebody who did not go to school – for drug supply, and nothing is being done about it?” she asks.
At this point Pharm. Ezenduka feels all stake holders, especially authorities like the Ministry of Health, PCN, NAFDAC, etc. are all to blame in this regard. There needs to be a more concerted effort by all the concerned authorities in ensuring a safer environment and healthier population because here, lives are seriously involved. Also, this is an area the legislators should really work on in order to put an end to the chaos. The lawmakers, the pharmacists, the Ministry of Health and all stakeholders must come together at a round table to resolve the situation. “And I sincerely think the mega distribution network that we are advocating will work if we all put our hearts to it,” Ezenduka says.