Minister of Commerce and Trade, Senator Haynesley Benn

When representatives from the pharmaceutical industry met with Minister of Commerce and Trade, Senator Haynesley Benn, and his ministry team, their message was simple:?? pharmacists in Barbados are not out to ???rip off’ members of the public.

The meeting, which was held yesterday, Monday, March 12, was the most recent in a series of gatherings coordinated by the ministry with stakeholders from relevant industries.?? It was convened to get a better understanding of their limitations and reach a common ground that would benefit both businesses and consumers.

Noting that his Ministry would continue to be a "watchdog on prices" as part of efforts to protect consumers, Senator Benn remarked that the meeting had been "an education" with persons speaking frankly about a range of issues.?? He said that he now understood that the price of some medicines was, in fact, not exorbitant, but fair, when the pharmacies’ limitations were considered.

"A few weeks ago [during] my address to the [Barbados] Chamber of Commerce, I expressed some concern as a result of some findings…on some of the mark-ups on selected pharmaceuticals.?? We’ve had some responses from the association [of pharmacists] and I thought it would be best for us to sit down and reason…[the] purpose of the meeting was to clear up any misunderstandings," Senator Benn said.

He highlighted the important role the pharmacists played vis-a-vis education of the public, and added that he looked forward to additional meetings, which would involve relevant agencies, including the Ministry of Health.

Also pleased with the meeting’s outcome was President of the Barbados Pharmaceutical Society (BPS), Bandele Serrano.?? He said: "There were three things we wanted to do this morning – inform the Minister and the ministry… enable the Minister, through the information, to have a greater understanding of what obtains in our industry…. [and]?? satisfy the Minister that the industry is not out there to rip the public off," Mr. Serrano stressed, stating that these objectives had been met.

The BPS President emphasised that pharmacists held a "great responsibility" in "serving the public and trying to keep their businesses open at the same time".?? In addressing the Minister’s concerns about high mark-ups, Mr. Serrano revealed that "…there are certain costs that will drive up those mark-ups.?? If something costs you a cent, or a dollar, and you sell it for five, that is a 400 per cent mark-up – but you can’t pay a pharmacist with four dollars.?? You can’t pay anybody with four dollars.??

"But we have a sliding scale with which we operate, and the scale ensures that there is a fair and equitable distribution of the mark-ups across the spectrum," he explained.

This point was supported by BPS Senior Vice President, Andy Bourne, who underscored that the cost of medicine was directly affected by availability, and observed that "where the drug is no longer available from the supplier, some pharmacies will source the drug from their overseas suppliers, as well as reputable and reliable sources.

"But, unfortunately, because of the constraints where the pharmacy will only be able to purchase smaller amounts, that cost to the pharmacy would be greatly increased and, as a result, that increase would be passed on to the consumer," he pointed out.

The bottom line was not the sole concern of the pharmacists. Mr. Serrano explained that there was a "… proliferation of certain medicines and herbal [products] in supermarkets [and] convenience shops, where there’s really no control". He stressed that pharmacy-only status was necessary for specific medicines, as this would ensure that persons were given the correct drugs and instructed on how to take them correctly.

"There are certain co-preparations that if you have hypertension, you can’t take them [or] if you have diabetes, you can’t use it," the BPA President observed, "…but if you have a cold [and] you saw an ad [for medicine] on TV, you go and buy it and hope for the best," he said.?? Mr Serrano stressed that the time and money wasted in this exercise could be remedied by asking for advice from a pharmacist first.

The dangers of self medicating were further emphasised by President of the Barbados Association of Pharmaceutical Owners (BAPO), David Lewis.?? According to him, experts in the industry were seeing "quite severe" interactions between herbal medications and prescriptions drugs.

"When people are on antidepressants, for example, and you are taking certain herbal preparations, it actually synergises those effects and can cause people to be nauseous, what we call serotonin sickness.???? There are other gastro intestinal irritations – these things need to be managed, and managed properly.??

"Being able to willy nilly walk into a pharmacy or health care store…there’s no legislation to protect the individual…Those [drugs] need to be under the care of a pharmacist or an individual who knows about those preparations and the possible interactions…" he contended.??

This concern for public health led to the creation of the First Contact programme, where BPA members are trained to be the first point of assistance to the public.?? Doctors and specialists teach members how to recognise signs of dengue and lupus, and the programme has seen much success, with patients benefitting from interventions on the part of pharmacists.??

Mr. Serrano maintained that this relationship with the public will continue to be strengthened and he emphasised that the nature of a pharmacist’s job was to "freely give advice on a daily basis" in an effort to offer good service to the public.?? He advised persons who may encounter challenges, especially those on long-term medication, "…to have a relationship with their pharmacist where you say "I can’t afford this medicine, how can you help me?"


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