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New PCN Law – Long overdue

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The passage last year of the new Pharmacy Council of Nigeria Bill by the national assembly was long overdue even though it generated commendable reactions from stakeholders in the health sector. We believe that it is better late than never to have a law that will boost efforts aimed at sanitising the pharmacy services in the country. Before the passage of the bill, the Pharmacy Council of Nigeria (PCN), the body responsible for the regulation of pharmacy practice in the country operated like a lame duck due to the weaknesses in enforcing the Acts setting it up.

But now it is expected that when the bill is signed into law by President Mohammadu Buhari, the PCN will be sufficiently empowered and adequately strengthened to deliver effectively on its mandate. Pharmacy practice in Nigeria urgently needs transformation to be able to compete favourably with the dynamics of global practice.

It is heart-warming though, to note from available information on the new law that it was designed to comprehensively bring all participants and bodies involved in drug distribution under the regulatory ambit of the council.

According to a statement credited to PCN Registrar, Pharm. Elijah Mohammed, the new law is all-encompassing and designed to address the gaps inherent in the extant Act, and will also help guarantee public health since it provides adequate sanctions in the event of a breach of any of its provisions. With the new law everyone involved in pharmacy practice, including those in the open drug markets will now be regulated by the PCN, thereby enabling the council’s efforts aimed at arresting the current trend in which drugs are made available through illegal and unregistered outlets. The offences covered by the new law include: unprofessional conduct; failure to register premises; refusal to dispense drugs and poisons; control of sale of patent and proprietary medicines; provision or supply of dangerous and restricted drugs; improved access to quality, effective and affordable medicines through introduction of satellite pharmacy and introduction of the concept of chain pharmacy.

Other provisions of the new law are: establishment of requirements for registration of intern pharmacists and standard for internship and any other experimental training – to enable a person obtain practical experience in the practice of pharmacy; establishment of requirement for the grant of license to intern pharmacists to undergo internship courses and engage in the practice of pharmacy in an approved institution under the direct supervision of registered pharmacists.

The rest include – provisions to regulate online distribution and sales of drugs and poisons; establishment of requirements for granting of license; and regulation of certified pharmacists to practise in designated fields such as nuclear pharmacy, logistics and supply chain management, among others.

The new law is also expected to tackle the current moral and ethical issues like abuse and misuse of codeine and related products, which has assumed a crisis status in the country currently, in addition to addressing the challenge of weak and ineffective legislations on pharmacy in the country. We commend the 8th Senate for acting expeditiously in the passage of the bill and expect Mr. President to bolster the momentum in this regard by delaying no further in signing this important document into law because by so doing, the Federal Government would have shown its avowed commitment to sanitising the pharmaceutical space in the country. The urgency that this presidential ascent demands would be better understood when the rising cases of merchandise of medicines in unauthorised quarters across the country by unlicensed individuals is brought under focus. It is common experience that Nigerians get their drugs from open market stalls, in intra-city buses, in kiosks, bars and night clubs with the attendant ignorance of the effect of temperature and humidity in such areas to drugs.

The recent revelation by authorities in PCN that in 2018 alone over 4,000 illegal pharmacies and patent medicine stores were sealed in select states across the country in addition to some 3,000 other illegal premises also sealed between 2015 and 2016, should ordinarily provide insight into the rising incidence of illegality in the drug distribution system in Nigeria.

PCN has the responsibility to ensure that the Nigerian population receives safe and effective care when using pharmacy services. But also, the council requires improved regulatory powers to weed the pharmaceutical space of interlopers.

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