Saudi women enter pharmaceutical retail industry

Decision is a boon for female pharmacists looking for employment in a sector that has been unavailable to them for decades.

A 2015 file picture shows Saudi women members of the Saudi Shura Council attending a session in Riyadh. (Reuters)

2016/12/18 Issue: 86 Page: 19

The Arab Weekly
Rob L. Wagner

Jeddah - In a significant move that prom­ises to level the playing field for women in the pharmaceutical industry, Saudi Arabia’s Minis­try of Health has agreed to issue licences for women to work in phar­macies and herbal medicine facili­ties.

The decision is a boon for female pharmacists looking for employment in a sector that has been unavailable to them for decades. Pharmaceuti­cal jobs remain available for women in the government sector but their exclusion from private employment limits choices of where to work.

The Ministry of Health reported in 2015 that the kingdom, which has a population of 28.8 million, has about 7,000 privately owned pharmacies, twice the number of the global aver­age in which one pharmacy serves an average of 8,000 potential cus­tomers.

The proliferation of private phar­macies stems in part from the Health Ministry eliminating a requirement that pharmacies must be at least 250 metres apart.

A majority of the kingdom’s phar­macies employ Arab expatriates as workers but the government’s Vi­sion 2030 aims to extend job oppor­tunities not only to Saudi citizens in general, but specifically women. The Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry reported that 500 female pharmaceutical students graduated from just one university this year and need jobs.

Ghadi Ghulam, a pharmacist working in a government pharmacy in Jeddah, said she welcomed the advantages jobs in the private sector would offer women.

“It will provide good opportuni­ties for women in general but, in our culture, we must go slow to get peo­ple used to the idea,” she said.

The average salary of a pharma­cist in the private sector is about $20,000 annually, although phar­macists with more than 20 years’ experience can earn as much as $64,000 per year, according to Pay­Sale, which collects data on sala­ries for virtually every profession around the world.

Only about one-quarter of the government-run pharmacies are staffed by women but some private companies are working to boost the number of women working in the profession.

Ahmed S. Dahduli, communica­tions director for AbbVie Biophar­maceuticals, which has offices in Jeddah and Riyadh, said interest among women pharmacists in the private sector is growing. The Chi­cago-based AbbVie provides train­ing programmes for student phar­macists in Saudi Arabia and other countries.

“The female Saudi pharmacist tal­ent pool is significantly large,” Dah­duli said. “When students started the programme with us, only 33% of them expressed interest in consid­ering working in the private sector. At the end of the programme, after witnessing the opportunities and career development plans, more than 75% of them are considering working with the private sector after graduation.”

The AbbVie training programme provides Saudi university students a look at the practicalities and ca­reer possibilities of a pharmacist. The company offers daily summer courses that focus on supply chain management, government and reg­ulatory requirements and quality as­surance among other topics.

Dahduli said Vision 2030 “has placed a significant amount of focus on Saudi human talent”.

“Given the number of pharmacy college graduates and the demand for professionals in the pharmaceu­tical industry in the kingdom, the intent of our programme is to help provide female candidates with the skills that can help them compete for available positions within this important sector,” he said.

Dahduli said there is a great de­mand for Saudi women pharma­cists. Ghulam agreed, noting that although the percentage of women working in government pharmacies is low, employment in the field — whether in the government or pri­vate sector — is available.

“Women would be more than happy to work in either the govern­ment or private sector,” she said.

Employment at private pharma­cies is not just limited to pharma­cists but also to support personnel. Many pharmacies, particularly in shopping malls, count most of their sales in cosmetics with about 30% of sales in medicinal products and pre­scriptions. Pharmacists say female customers prefer speaking with an­other woman when discussing de­tails of their prescriptions.

Other medical-related professions are also expected to open more job opportunities to women, including ophthalmology. For example, 60 of the 68 recent graduating ophthal­mologists at King Saud University were women. This year, an estimat­ed 13,000 women were certified ophthalmologists although jobs in the private sector do not exist for them.

Rob L. Wagner is an American journalist based in Saudi Arabia.

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