1. What are the effect of COVID-19 outbreak on PCN activities and what measures have you adopted to ensure that Council continue to function while keeping its personnel safe.
The Circular of the Office Head of Civil Service of the Federation on “The COMPULSORY STAY AT HOME OF NON ESSENTIAL PUBLIC SERVANTS ON GRADE 12 AND BELOW AS A FURTHER MEASURE TO CURTAIL THE SPREAD OF COVID-19” with effect from Tuesday 24th March 2020 was effectively implemented by the Council. This necessitated adjustment to the work schedules of certain categories of officers as were necessary.
As the number of confirmed cases gradually increased in Nigeria, Pharmacists Council of Nigeria(PCN) took further safety measures to suspend all activities that bring together large number of people (usually more than 50). This included issuance of circular for the postponement of the first cycle of 2020 Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Orientation Program (FPGOP) scheduled to hold at Gombe State University from April 19 to May 29, 2020. Similarly, all scheduled Induction/Oath Taking programmes for graduating Pharmacists from accredited Faculties of Pharmacy in the country were suspended until further notice; the PCN senior staff promotion exercise scheduled to hold between 31st March and April 1st 2020 was also postponed until further notice.
In the same vein, as a result of the lockdown and restriction of movements across various states, all field activities (accreditation, inspections, meetings, enforcement exercise) were put on hold temporarily. Meanwhile, staff are using virtual platform to work from home.
However, PCN is adopting several measures to ensure that Council continue to function while keeping its personnel safe. All PCN online platforms are available and easily accessible. These platforms include the PCN Core App for registration/renewal of licences for pharmacists and pharmaceutical premises as well as the Mandatory Continuous Professional Development online platform. Very soon, Council would be launching the registration platform for the pharmacy technicians and patent and proprietary medicines vendors(PPMVS) that is currently undergoing testing.
All licence applications made online are processed promptly by the staff of registration and licensing department from their homes after which the Registrar approves such to enable respective applicant print temporary licence from his or her email. In the same vein, pharmacists who take online MCPD modules will have opportunity to print their certificates from the platform as evidence of completion of the module(s).
As part of efforts to ensure the safety of personnel, an advisory on precautionary measures was communicated to staff vide an Internal Circular. Staff were also encouraged to bring same to the attention of their family members, and communities around them through virtual means. There is provision of personal protective equipment/accessories for those who must work on the premises (security men inclusive).
2. The Pharmaceutical industry has been hard hit by the COVID-19 outbreak, what are your thoughts on the efforts of Government to help the sector so far and are there measures the PCN is also taking to cushion the effect of this pandemic on the practitioners and premises you are regulating?
The Federal Government must be commended for the steps taken to support the pharmaceutical sector through the special intervention funds to the sector. This would greatly boost local production of medicines by indigenous pharmaceutical industries, thereby closing the gaps that would be created in the supply of essential medicines to Nigerians occasioned by the effects of COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the Nigeria pharmaceutical industry is not unexpected. This is rightly so because the sector has been largely import dependent despite the fact that Nigeria has the largest number of indigenous pharmaceutical industries in sub Saharan Africa. It may interest you to know that some of these manufacturers have achieved World Health Organization (WHO) pre-qualification. The challenge of the sector has been largely due to the lack of enabling environment and political will. Therefore, the introduction of the Federal Government special intervention fund as a short term measure is a welcome development at this critical time. We also strongly believe that this initiative should be augmented with the establishment of an Investment Fund for the pharmaceutical sector for a sustainable growth while also ensuring the full implementation of the National Drug Distribution Guidelines (NDDG).
Financing the development of pharmaceutical research outcomes and innovations from our various faculties of pharmacy and the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development should be appropriately looked into. The development of high grade Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients(APIs) to support local production of medicines is urgently needed in the country. There is need to also support pharmacoepidemiological studies in the country to determine the country needs, minimize wastages and save our hard earned foreign exchange, most especially the trending social marketing ‘health’ products that our populace is loading their systems with without appropriate professional advice.
On the other hand, PCN has advised all hospital pharmacists to liaise with the management of their various institutions to reactivate the compounding and small scale manufacturing units as the case may be in their pharmacy departments to facilitate the production of essential medicines where appropriate and hand sanitizers as it was in time past. Similarly, The Drug Revolving Fund(DRF) scheme which is a mechanism recommended by the National Drug Policy towards ensuring a sustained availability of affordable and efficacious medicines in the Nigerian health facilities should also be sustained and appropriately strengthened. The situation we are in, is a wakeup call to the headship of various health institutions to provide all the necessary supports to their pharmacy departments so that they can function optimally, professionally and in line with the callings cum duties of pharmacy professionals in tandem with best global practice. This will help to encourage professionalism and reposition their pharmacy departments for growth so that in times of emergencies such as this (COVID-19 pandemic), pharmacists can always come to the rescue of citizens in simple preparations such as hand sanitisers that a year 2 student in any pharmacy school in Nigeria can prepare within minutes in their pharmaceutical laboratories.
The measures that PCN has taken to cushion the effect of the pandemic is the extension of deadline for registration of all licenses (both personal and premises) by one month on resumption after the lockdown. We will also prioritize processing of applications from Importation outlets.
3. There are fears that Nigeria will have serious drug scarcity challenge in the coming weeks and months if the COVID-19 problem persists, what are the short and long term measures to tackle this challenge?
Short Term Measures to tackle imminent drug scarcity:
A. To enforce/monitor the rational use of medicines with the help of other relevant regulatory agencies in the country with the goal of strengthening antimicrobial stewardship and rational use of medicines in the country.
B. Encourage hospitals to adopt Unit Dose dispensing system (UDDS) for their inpatients in order to reduce wastage.
C. Encourage Pharmacy Departments in our health facilities to reactivate their in-house compounding units towards meeting some of their basic essential needs as it was in time past.
D. Manufacturing companies to increase local production of medicines especially those in Essential Medicines List(EML)
E. Government to grant special waivers for importation of medicines to increase supply
Long term measures to tackle imminent drug scarcity
A. Conduct of a risk assessment of the pharmaceutical industry in Nigeria, to identify early warning signs.
B. Establishment of Investment/Intervention Fund for the establishment of plants that can produce Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs).
C. Provision of infrastructure/hubs for local manufacturing companies
D. Increase local industry capacity
E. Develop and maintain a robust supply chain system in Nigeria.
F. Embark on policy review and ensuring full implementation of same
G. Strengthen regulatory agencies in the pharmaceutical sector
H. Review of the Essential Medicines List to include drug alternatives that are readily available
I. Embark on the development and production of local herbs with promising therapeutic effect and promotion of their use.