Complementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

YEAR 2000 was an exciting year in contemporary history. It was that year during which many felt a certain sense of accomplishment in witnessing a transition not from one decade or century to another, but indeed from one millennium to another. Transition into Y2K, as that year had come to be referred, was hallmarked by fears of a possible global crash of computer systems, a fear that turned out, to the relief of the world, to be without basis.

Instructively, the new magical year of 2000 also witnessed the coming together of some 189 countries across the world to assess the present and make projections for a better future for mankind. The excitement of the new millennium notwithstanding, the outlook of the world at the time was not pretty. The world was plagued with natural disasters such as famines and drought and other problems such as poverty and disease. Whilst some of the problems were of course, inevitable, it was clear that their impact could be less devastating on humankind. The world had the capacity to produce enough food to ensure that no-one was left hungry, but somehow, severe hunger pervaded much of the world.

It was the search for a reversal of these fortunes that led leaders of these 189 countries to conceive and collectively adopt a set of eight goals that they believed if pursued aggressively on a global scale, would among others, help considerably rid the world of hunger and poverty by 2015. Those goals came to be known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The MDGs may not have met their ambitious targets by 2015. They were, however, very successful in redressing to a considerable extent, the problems they sought to combat.  There are reports that the MDGs may have succeeded in reducing extreme poverty by up to half. MDGs also succeeded in impacting global awareness on the essence of enrolling children in schools and globally by 2015, more children were in school than at any previous period in history, while infant and child mortality had also reduced considerably.

The successes of the MDGs, though rather far from the ambitious targets set at the beginning of the millennium, have spurred the world to adopt a new set of goals that build on these accomplishments. Known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), this new set of goals aims to among others, end hunger and poverty by 2030. Like the MDGs, the SDGs build on the premise that by working together on a pre-agreed mission, the world stands a better chance of meeting the aspirations of its citizens for peace, prosperity and progress.

A most pivotal among the Sustainable Development Goals is good health and the promotion of wellbeing for all and at all ages.

It would appear that by some fortuitous coincidence of sorts, Pharmacy, that profession whose role has traditionally been to manufacture and provide medicines, has sequel to an evolution in scope over the years, attuned itself to keying more seamlessly into the Sustainable Development Goals.

Over the last six decades for instance, the focus of pharmacy practice has gradually shifted. Whereas the focus used to be on the medicines that pharmacists manufacture and distribute, today, the focus has shifted to the patient, the clinical equivalent of what other professions refer to as customer or client. The profession would appear to have adopted the counsel of famed Harvard marketing professor, Theodore Levitt, who in his iconic 1960 article, “Marketing Myopia,” canvassed that an industry (replace that with profession) “is a customer-satisfying process, not a goods-producing process.” An industry, Levitt said, “begins with the customer (patient in this case) and his or her needs, not with a patent, a raw material, or a selling skill.”

Today, across most of the world, especially in developed economies, the patient has become the focal point of pharmaceutical practice. Increasingly, the pharmacist is taking direct responsibility for ensuring that only those medicines that are most appropriate for a particular condition; that are optimally cost-effective as well as safe and convenient for the patient, are taken. The new shift in focus, therefore, implies that rather than work largely in isolation of other clinical health care practitioners like his doctor and nurse counterparts, pharmacists now play a key role in clinical settings, helping to ensure that patients only take medicines that are best suited to their situations.

The new trend in pharmacy practise speaks to the emphasis that the SDGs place on people, their health and general wellbeing. The new trend in pharmacy also speaks to the emphasis that the SDGs place on responsible consumption and production. It acknowledges that because medicines are essentially poisons with a potential to wreak untold harm and havoc on people and subject them to inconvenience and even further pauperise people if the most affordable or cost-effective options are not painstakingly selected, it is critical that in the war against diseases, pharmacists must increasingly play the critical role of intercessor for the patient. Very importantly, the new trend is very much in line with the SDGs which emphasise partnerships and collaboration towards the attainment of the goals.

  • Professor Tayo is General Secretary of the Nigeria Academy of Pharmacy.