Former Director-General of Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) and Principal Partner of NQI Consult Limited, Dr. Joseph Ikemefuna Odumodu, has enjoined pharmacists in the country to keep abreast with technological development in order to be relevant in the highly competitive world, which is currently dominated by the Western and Asian countries.
Odumodu, who spoke recently in Benin, Edo State, where he was a Keynote Speaker at 2019 Pharmacy Week, said because of a fast changing world driven by technology, it is imperative to have continuing robust conversations about its disruptions and shocks in the ways “we do things in our industry.”
“Increasingly and across the globe, both academics and practitioners are questioning the continued relevance of our profession in the face of future technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, quantum computing, e-commerce, internet of things etc. Indeed, and to be fair to us their impacts cut across all sectors and industries.
“We are operating in a very challenging economic environment characterized by rapidly rising population and growing unemployment rate. It is estimated that in another 30 years, the population of Nigeria will spiral to about 400 million.
So we have to begin to plan how to manage the health challenges of 400 million people from the current 206 million in a situation where disposable income remains low,” said Odumodu, who is a pharmacist.
According to him, while there have been some good news in the health sector such as improvement in immunization coverage, drop in wild polio virus cases, health insurance for coverage for the formal sector, availability of midwives to primary health centers, access to free health for pregnant women and children under 5 years, drop in HIV prevalence rate and reduction of fake medicines, a lot still needs to be done when viewed against some other discomforting and sobering statistics.
He said that “local pharmaceutical companies have been consistently losing share of our local market accounting for only 20% of our domestic consumption, adding that “this contribution of about 20% of our national needs is principally from ‘assembly of imported chemicals’ in imported packaging made from imported paper and inks; the only local content in essentially labour.” About 292,000 new-borns die every year, 2nd highest in the world.
Odumodu regretted that Nigeria’s pharmaceutical industry is seriously under the weight of drug Armada from India and China just as there is an increasing trend and pressure to outsource production to China and India, sacrificing professional and security expediency to commercial profits.
He said that even the 120 or so pharmaceutical companies operating in Nigeria, in the bid to survive have joined the trading chain as marketers of foreign firms, regretting that the local pharmaceutical industry is not in any way partaking in the almost 1 trillion US dollar global market
On the drug manufacturing scale, the former Managing Director and CEO of May & Baker Plc said “we neither have the competitive nor comparative advantage against such countries as India, China, South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, South Africa and Israel,” adding that “the import of the foregoing is that it will remain a challenge for us to guarantee the efficacy of the medicines we administer to our patients.”
On how to overcome this disadvantage, Odumodu advised that pharmacists must build collaborations, if not mergers, citing the banking consolidation policy which led to six Nigerian banks emerging in the first 1000 in global ranking. Nigerian banks are now winning internationally and spreading over the UK, US and the African continent.
“We must come together and pool resources to achieve better economies of scale in manufacturing. In addition, we must start by investing in simple excipients like pharma grade starch. We can never achieve any level of competitiveness by importing all inputs,” he counselled.
According to Odumodu, the context now is the digital revolution. “Patients are more and less dependent on their doctors for advice and are increasingly able and willing to take greater control over their own health. They feel empowered by the vast amount of health information available online and on apps and by array of health and fitness wearables such as Fitbits and apple watch. Truth is that technology can improve patient safety, enable pharmacists to provide quality care and help patients make most of their medicines.”
Electronic prescribing of controlled substances and prescription drug monitoring programme are technologies presently being used in pharmacy and their use are bound to escalate in the years ahead just as robots are taking over menial and repetitive tasks such as counting pills and freeing up pharmacists to do higher order jobs.
Technology has also been found useful for patient profile monitoring, medication, database management and material management.
It is increasingly being useful for drug interactions, drug information services and patients counselling.Online pharmacy is threatening the existence of our traditional pharmacy as most prescription drugs increasingly available to consumers.
Community pharmacies are using digital technologies such as social media, interactive websites, mobile apps, electronic records etc to empower the patients and achieve better results.
Another innovative solution is the idea of digital interactive pharmacy kiosks that allows patients to converse in real-time through a live stream video feed with a pharmacy technician or pharmacist.
“The question and a disturbing one for that matter is whether our profession will soon be extinct and replaced by robots and Amazon (e-commerce). A large part of our work is pharmacotherapeutic management. This on the surface seems cut and dry but it is actually an artform, requiring many years of experience with medication and incorporating current research on and prices of medication,” said Odumodu.