By Chioma Umeha
Ahmed Yakasai, President, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) is a veteran practitioner with over three decades of experience. Yakasai who is a former Chairman of PSN Kano State Branch, first National Deputy President of PSN and a two-time past Commissioner in Kano State, in this interview withCHIOMA UMEHA, shares perspectives on pharmacy and health management issues. Excerpts:
Nigeria has celebrated 57th years anniversary of independence. What are the challenges of the health sector? What is the way forward?
Nigeria continues to contend with a plethora of challenges not necessarily caused by this incumbent administration. Among numerous challenges, the following stand out: poor funding, delayed and unlawful appointments in regulatory agencies, poor composition structures in the health sector including, lopsided appointments in Federal Health Institutions (FHIs) as well as poor attitude to research and development.
If we restrict ourselves to the highlighted, you will agree that the inherent tendency of health tourism is predicated on poor funding.
Currently, over 95 per cent of the health workforce is on an avoidable strike as a result of challenges in funding. Low wages and obsolete equipment combine to make our health system largely unproductive.
Universal Health Coverage (UHC) is impossible because of deficiently administered social health insurance agenda.
Delays in appointments that are also sometimes unlawful in sensitive regulatory agencies like NAFDAC, PCN and others ultimately take a toll on the quality of care consumers of health receive from caregivers.
An agency like NAFDAC, which normally should enhance a high safety margin in the range of available regulated products, cannot dwell on ad-hoc structures in perpetuity. It can be even more tragic when government conducts unlawful appointments like those we have witnessed in previous dispensations at NAFDAC, PCN, Nursing and Midwifery Council and Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria (MLSCN).
You are familiar with the position of stakeholders in health with reference to the composition of the board of management of FHIs that is unduly skewed against majority of stakeholders. The way forward is to redress the highlighted challenges.
The pharmaceutical sector is an often neglected goldmine, because we have the requisite expertise to share. We can meet over 90 per cent of local needs and export to other African countries – become African hub for pharmaceuticals. It will be my joy to see this actualised in my lifetime for the good of Nigeria.
Pharmacists recently celebrated World Pharmacists Day. What is it all about?
Every September 25 marks the annual World Pharmacists Day(WPD). Many years ago, the FIP Congress in Istanbul encouraged the world’s pharmacists to celebrate the day and use it to organise activities that promote the role of the pharmacists in improving health globally.
The theme of this year’s celebration was, “ From Research To Health Care: Your Pharmacist is at Your Service.” The theme was chosen to reflect the numerous contributions which the pharmacist makes to health, from research and development of medicines to educating future practitioners as well as pharmaceutical scientists, and providing direct care. Our goal is to serve patients and the community. However, providing care does not begin in community or hospital pharmacies. Patients’ care starts with recognising the health issues of populations and developing medicines, policies and education to tackle them.
WPD highlights the pivotal role of pharmacists in healthcare delivery from research to care giving.
Where does the PSN stand in the quest to improve the welfare of health workers in Nigeria, especially against the backdrop of incessant strikes in federal health institutions (FHIs)?
We wish to appeal to the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government to give immediate attention to the clamours of health workers, including pharmacists to redress some pressing welfare demands. The demands include immediate release of the circular on adjustment of the CONHESS scale by the Salaries and Wages Commission. Second is the full payment of balance of arrears of the skipping of CONHESS 10 which remains outstanding in some FHIs since 2010.
Next is proper implementation of the circular which prescribes sanctions on defaulting Federal Health Institution Managements which frustrate the promotion of health workers from CONHESS 14 to 15 as directors.
The fourth is issuance of enabling circular authorising consultancy cadre for health professionals who have adhered to due process by scaling the hurdles of approval of the National Council on Establishment.
Fifth is sponsoring an amendment bill to finally correct the litany of contentious provisions in the enabling statute that establishes teaching hospitals in Nigeria (cap 415 463 LFN 2004).
PSN is appealing to the Federal Government to sustain the lofty ideals of the intervention championed by the late Minister of State for Labour and Productivity, Barrister James Ocholi, who calmed frayed nerves within the ranks of the various Health Sector Unions and Health Professional Associations that had threatened to go on strike in February, last year.
PSN strongly urges JOHESU/AHPA to continue using dialogue as a tool of engaging government in public interest to resolve the ongoing strike.
The PSN believes that now is the time to give all care-providers unlimited latitudes to showcase their potentials, skills and enhance their performance in various areas of specialisation. We must continue to align with the global objectives and targets of health care which places huge premium on all health workers in the value chain.
We call on the Office of the Secretary to Government of the Federation, Head of Service of the Federation, Budget Office, Federal Ministry of Health, Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity and all others involved in negotiations with JOHESU/AHPA to do everything possible to facilitate urgent end to the ongoing strike of health workers which paralyses the economy and causes untold sufferings on the masses.
What plans are in place to ensure commencement of the amended National Drug Distribution Guidelines (NDDG)?
Stakeholders are collaborating to ensure that the proposed Coordinated Wholesale Centres (CWCs) takes off effectively.
Among the collaborators are Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN), National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Federal Ministry of Health and pharmacy stakeholders. These include Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Group of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (PMG-MAN), Nigerian Representatives of Overseas Pharmaceutical Manufacturers (NIROPHARM), AIDS Prevention Initiative in Nigeria (APIN), Association Of Community Pharmacists Of Nigeria(ACPN) and representative of non-pharmacist wholesalers. The CWCs are already constructed in some parts of the country. You will agree with me this is very strategic to our overall success.
It is my belief that when PCN and NAFDAC structure are fully established, we shall mobilise to consolidate our present level of commitment and gains. The PSN remains committed to effective drug distribution channels and I assure the consuming public we shall not fail in this regard.
The Federal Government has now given the CWCs a new deadline of December 2018 and I must say all stakeholders must ensure a no-going back posture on the deadline.
We have had appointments in most parastatals including some in the health sector, when and what do you expect with notable appointments in the pharmaceutical sector?
It is the prerogative of the Federal Government to carry out these appointments whether at PCN, NAFDAC or National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) which I believe you are referring to. I however presume that your interest is predicated in public interest, especially in the value such appointments can bring to bear on public health endeavours.
Our first priority is to ensure lawful appointments on all pharmaceutical platforms because we certainly do not envisage or pray for the disruption in equilibrium we experienced at PCN when representatives of PSN was compromised due to a distasteful manipulation by an interested party.
We once had the same scenario at NAFDAC which degenerated to a court action in another dispensation.
To avoid an unpalatable discourse, the PSN has since recommended its representatives to the Minister of Health as provided for in Section 3 (1) F of the PCN Act. The Federal Government is also familiar with the required criteria for the appointments of substantive DG/CEO for NAFDAC.
We shall continue to believe that an administration that abhors corruption as the incumbent government has demonstrated would be seriously mindful of not appointing elements who have antecedents that are tainted with corruption. The protracted delay in the appointment of the DG NAFDAC in particular has encouraged rumour mongering which generates entropy in the pharmaceutical space.
Our profession is at a critical junction because the delayed appointments in the regulatory agencies make us unduly vulnerable to the whims and caprices of merchants of death and other violators of the law.
It is instructive to put on record too that to appoint regulators especially, in our sector should be premised or built around persons who are conversant with the terrain to be regulated. I therefore appeal to the Federal Government to give us lawful and befitting appointments in the pharmaceutical sector in the days and months ahead.
The 90th annual national conference of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria holds in November this year at Umuahia. What do we expect?
This conference has as its theme, “Medicines Availability and National Security.” The Speaker, House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, is expected to declare it open as a special guest of honour, while the Governor of Abia State is chief host. The Minister of Health will be the guest of honour and the occasion would be chaired by Mr. Peter Obi, former Governor of Anambra State.
Our nation needs to develop an efficient manpower base in the quest for self-sufficiency and economic growth. We shall strategise on improving local drug manufacturing, while ensuring all other drugs that will assist in wellness and eradicating life-threatening situations would be available in our health system.
This unique conference will therefore exploit avenues for this much sought after maxims as it concerns the pharmaceutical sector of the economy. It is a peculiar gathering of pharmacists and other scientists nationwide as well as the Diaspora, so you can only expect new positive force to emerge, pharmaceutically speaking after November 11, 2017.