World Pharmacists Day: Work with stakeholders to save lives, Saraki tasks pharmacists

Former Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, has implored pharmacists in states across the federation to live up to their mandates by working together with physicians, nurses, laboratory scientists, organizations and stakeholders in the health sector; in order to tackle health issues.

Speaking Saturday in Abuja, during the 2021 World Pharmacists Day commemoration organized by the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Abuja Branch, Saraki said that government should not always take the blame for problems in Nigeria as pharmacists have a great role to play in the betterment of the country.

He said:  “The theme for today is “Pharmacy: Always Trusted For Your Health” and I want to ask, has PSN lived up to this expectation in Nigeria? For several years, pharmacists have been named among the top five most trusted professionals and has been voted second most trusted profession in Turkey and UK. Can we say the same with Nigeria? This is a question that should agitate the minds of the professionals gathered here and those of us who belong to associated professions and even consumers of services provided by pharmacists should worry about this.

“I am raising this question because I believe that though government or the political leadership have been held responsible for all the ills plaguing our society, may be rightly so too, but we also need to start questioning our own roles as citizens and as groups of professionals and see how we have also failed to uplift our country and her people. This is the time for self re-examination in our country.

“PSN was established in 1927 to instill discipline and maintain professional ethics among members of the organization through regulation, education, legislation, research, and advocacy interventions. The roles also include investigating acts of ethical misconducts, initiating sustainable policies, evaluating pharmacy and drug statutes, mentoring pharmacy students, designing sustainable schemes, alleviating pharmacists’ discomforts, and conducting surveys in areas of critical concern in pharmacy practice.

“Nigeria today is faced with a lot of challenges in the health sector, especially in the areas of funding and of which the pharmacists are not left out. The country suffers from “brain drain” as high number of trained professionals leave annually to developed countries in search for greener pastures for different reasons which are not limited to security challenges, poor remuneration, lack of necessary, lack of necessary facilities, among others.

“A frightening statistics came out recently from the website of the General Medical Council, the body which licenses medical doctors to practice in the United Kingdom and maintains their register. It shows that between June 10 and September 20, 2021, 353 Nigerian trained doctors were licensed to practice in the UK. That is an average of 3 doctors per day. A total of about 8,737 Nigerian doctors who obtained their degrees in Nigeria now practice in the UK. I am sure the same applies to other professionals in the health sector like pharmacists. How can a country said to have shortage of medical hands to cater for the people be suffering this magnitude of brain drain? I am sure a similar figure will apply to the US and other major leading countries in Europe and America.

“Another major problem we are facing in the country today is the issue of drug abuse which cuts across all age groups, with statistics as high as over 14 percent of the populace. Many people also engage in self-medication which is very detrimental to the over-all health of an individual. There is also the problem of many unlicensed drug outlets where people purchase all types of drugs over the counter. This also leads us to the challenge of fake drugs which has worsened the health conditions of people who on many occasions patronise the producers of these imitated, unapproved and poorly produced drugs.

“So, the question is, “has PSN lived up to the expectations of its members and that of Nigerians in the over 94 years of its existence? The world is fast evolving, and the advent of technology is being used as an innovation tool to improve efficiency of all interventions across all sectors and thus eventually building trust within the systems.”

He added: “I have said it that it should not be the job or pastime of any leader at whatever level in our society to be lamenting and pointing out faults. We should be problem solvers, solution finders and creative thinkers. As health professionals, it is paramount to work together with other members of the health teams such as physicians, nurses, laboratory scientists and others, including organizations focusing on tackling health issues. Every Nigerian, from every sector should be focused on improving health outcomes for women, infants, and children in Nigeria and around the World through everyday actions. This we cannot achieve without the desired partnership with team members made up of healthcare professionals in delivering the required quality for the people.

“We all have to devise the means to better serve the health needs of our society. In the previous offices that I held, we made two interventions, among many others which I am always proud to talk about. First, as a believer in the health insurance scheme, our administration in Kwara State implemented the Community Health Insurance Scheme (CHIS) to make quality healthcare services readily available, accessible, acceptable and affordable to the majority of Kwarans, most of whom live in the rural areas. 39, 676 people initially enrolled and they only pay an annual fee of N300 a year. The scheme is a tripartite arrangement with the Dutch Government represented by PharmAccess, Kwara State Government and another private sector healthcare company. This initiative is now being replicated at the national levels and in several states.

“Also, in the Senate, we activated the provision of the National Health Act which has remained dormant before then, that is the section which devotes one percent of the Consolidated Revenue Fund to boost Basic Primary Healthcare Provision Fund in the 2018 Budget. This makes for improved funding for the health sector in Nigeria and helped to improve the quality of life, reduce property and mortality rates, and indeed, ‘Make Nigeria Stronger’. The move was commended across the world, including from the then DG of WHO, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus. Such policy interventions coupled with attitudinal change across board, I believe, are what we need to make the difference.

“Furthermore, there is dire need to engage with other sectors such as education, finance, economic planning, agriculture, women, and youth development. Involving them will give insight on how collaboration among all sectors can help drive and attain desired results in the health sector that ultimately leap frogs the country towards the attainment of Universal Health Coverage with economic improvement. 

“For PSN to live up to today’s theme, I strongly call for swifter licensing, better remuneration and regulation among the members of this great organization. This cannot be achieved without intense and deliberate advocacy targeting policy makers at the national, state, and local levels as well as other stakeholders.     

“To this end, let us all ponder on the issues at hand and ask questions. We should begin to think out of the box on how the numerous challenges may be tackled and overcome in a manner that leads us towards getting the desired results. What should matter to us is the journey and not the destination. The race towards getting it right is a marathon and not a sprint. Improvement takes time, courage, dedication and most importantly building trust.

“Our lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and inattention to results have plagued the progress of various reputable professions in our clime and pharmacy is not exempted. It is time to take personal, organizational and societal responsibility with the resolve to strategically measure the outcome of intentional commitment to excellence. It is time to put Nigeria on the map of pharmaceutical excellence and it is time to make our world better than we met it.”