Tanveer Ahmad Kumar
The practice of pharmacy requires excellent knowledge of drugs, their mechanism of action, side effects, interactions, mobility, and toxicity. It also requires knowledge of treatment and pathological processes. Pharmacists are called “experts of medicine”. The scope of pharmacy includes traditional roles (compounding and dispensing) as well as modern roles like reviewing medication for safety and efficacy, adverse drug monitoring, providing necessary information to patients about their medication, etc.
The profession of pharmacy is still in the infancy in Jammu and Kashmir where the traditional role of dispensing is carried out by underqualified medical assistants for whom the title of pharmacist is wrongly used. Except in our region, pharmacists have adapted from bench side to bedside roles involving patient care, monitoring drug therapy regimens, monitoring adverse drug reactions, guiding patients about their use of medicine, and optimising drug therapy outcomes.
In the rest of the country, the Pharmacy Council of India (PCI) regulates education as well as profession of pharmacy, but in Jammu & Kashmir due to the special status of the state, drug laws were regulated by the JK Pharmacy Council, which never bothered to incorporate educational regulations and engaged underqualified medical assistants to work in place of pharmacists. Qualified pharmacists possessing graduate or postgraduate degrees were labelled as overqualified and their applications for pharmacist posts were not even entertained. They were left with no option other than to serve outside and even some changed their profession after getting postgraduate degrees in pharmacy. Due to identity crisis, qualified pharmacists moved from pillar to post for recognition and lost precious time in going around courts and administrative offices. Even court orders for higher qualification eligibility for pharmacist posts notified earlier are yet to be implemented. As per JK Pharmacy Council, a matriculate who has done a 14-month medical assistant course is eligible for the post of pharmacist.
Such underqualified practitioners were caught by a storm when Article 370 was abrogated. Now central pharmacy laws would apply to the union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh and no one can enter the profession of pharmacy without valid credentials. Under Section 12 of the central Pharmacy Act 1948, only the qualifications of diploma in pharmacy (D Pharma), bachelor in pharmacy (B Pharma) and doctor of pharmacy (Pharm D) are approved for the purpose of registration as pharmacists. The majority of the pharmacists who have been registered under JK Pharmacy Act are matriculates without such qualification. The new stringent eligibility criteria pose such a threat to tens of thousands of chemists and druggists here that they raised a great hue and cry and forced the PCI to propose to the union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to insert Section 32C in the central Pharmacy Act 1948 for according special provisions regarding persons registered under the repealed JK Pharmacy Act. The decision in this regard was taken in the 108th central council meeting of PCI, which reads: “Notwithstanding anything contained in the Section 32, any person whose name has been entered in the register of Pharmacists maintained under Jammu And Kashmir Pharmacy Act 2011 and possesses qualification prescribed under the said Act, shall be deemed to have been entered in the register of Pharmacists prepared and maintained under Chapter IV of this Act.”
This amendment has salvaged the career of chemists and druggists already in the system but it is a gross violation of the central Pharmacy Act. The government’s decision to maintain status quo on the already registered pharmacists in J&K is a matter of serious concern. Such moves will prevent the healthcare system in J&K from coming to par with national and international standards.
The question arises that why the healthcare system in Jammu and Kashmir is reluctant to incorporate professional pharmacy services? Why the patients in this part of the globe are left at the mercy of underqualified and untrained persons? This system has given birth to many problems, like development of antimicrobial resistance due to irrational use of antimicrobial agents, growing concerns of kidney diseases due to indiscriminate use of painkillers, rise of counterfeit medicines, illegal sale of drugs with abuse potential, indiscriminate use of steroids and other narrow therapeutic drugs that put the lives of patients at risk. By calling medical assistants “Pharmacists” is injustice to the profession of pharmacy because neither their curriculum nor their expertise in any form reflects the work of pharmacists. One fails to understand why when the mess in the valley was cleared after the abrogation of Article 370, its corrupted roots are being nurtured again. It is well said that “poison in safe hands becomes medicine and medicine in the wrong hands becomes poison”. Why is malpractice being encouraged by the people at the helm of affairs? Why are the authorities hell bent on putting precious human lives in danger?
Pharmacy professionals should be up in arms to fight any move that degrades the healthcare system.
The writer has an M Pharma degree from University of Kashmir