The general consensus emerging from operators of retail pharmacies in Cameroon is that things have never been worse than what they are witnessing today. As the prices of rents and other utilities like electricity, telephone and water are either going up or remaining constant, the turnover in pharmacies across the country is nose-diving. Pharmacists I spoke to have all reported a drop in sales of between 30 to 60% over the past two years in their respective pharmacies with resultant erosion of profits.
As if this was not enough headache, the taxation department is seemingly putting the final nail to the coffin. In a recent meeting between Littoral Pharmacists and the Minister of Public Health in Douala, the president of the Pharmacists’ Syndicate in the province, Dr. Ndoumbe Francis complained particularly of “pression fiscale” or tax pressure. In fact many pharmacists now view the threat from the taxation department to be more potent to the survival of their business than the drop in income.
But what has led to drastic drop in income? From information I gathered from talking to pharmacists and investigation carried out in the field, the down turn can be attributed to the following reasons;
- The importation and sale of medicines by unauthorized people. Regardless of the fact that this is an old problem, it has gained a notorious amplification within the past couple of years. Some people attribute the magnification of the problem to the involvement of ‘highly placed’ people in the parallel pharmacy sector.
- The impact of CENAME (The national company for the acquisition of essential medicines). In as much as the availability of CENAME medicines in government hospitals takes away part of the private sector pharmacy business, pharmacists generally view the role of CENAME as complimentary (they make medicines available to even the most remote parts of the country) and as such salutary.
- The general problem of poverty that is directly linked to the economic situation in the country.
- Some medical practitioners stock medicines in their clinics, prescribe and sell them to patients thereby limiting the prescriptions eventually reaching the pharmacies.
- Pilfering by staff of various pharmacies. This is a veritable management nightmare in many pharmacies. The availability of takers operating in the illegal pharmacy business is an incentive to dishonest staff that can make extra income by stealing from their employers and selling to these people.
Added to all these problems is the problem insecurity. Many pharmacists have had to make further investment in the security domain to protect their businesses from burglary and armed robbery.
It is generally agreed by all the pharmacists I talked to that if this trend continues, the future of community pharmacy practice will be bleak. As a matter of fact the situation has so far crippled some pharmacies to the extent that their owners have given up the fight and migrated to countries where pharmacy practice may not be as problematic as it is in Cameroon.
Copyright 2005 by Njei Moses Timah