Michael Conidaris was the founder member of SASOPH.

In his career as an oncology pharmacist, he took initiative, created and sent newsletters to other oncology pharmacists, oncology representatives and Heads of Oncology Departments on various diseases and the latest information from studies at the time.

He also reported on conferences both local and international – SASMO, ECCO, ESMO, St Gallen and ISOPP – that he attended. He soon became respected by all.

Michael approached Aventis, with the suggestion that an Oncology Pharmacy Society be formed. Aventis invited oncology pharmacists nationally to a meeting in Dullstroom, Mpumalanga in March 2001. Goals where agreed on, a constitution proposed, regional representatives where elected and rules for membership where agreed on. However, progress was slow.

Roche Oncology sponsored a regional meeting in Rosebank, JHB in November 2002. A website, sponsored by Sanofi Aventis, was set up. Although not always computer savvy, Michael managed to keep the website active.

In November 2008, a second national meeting was sponsored and arranged by Sanofi-Aventis in Pennington, KwaZulu-Natal. A varied programme was presented and a new committee elected. Sanofi circulated a document from the ISOPP Standards of Practice: “Safe Handling of Cytotoxic drugs” to various practices.

Michael had great vision, and negotiated with the SA Pharmacy Council for the recognition of oncology pharmacists as a speciality. Even though a suggested course with recommendations from various oncology specialists was proposed at the time, it was not successful. He was ahead of his time.

Michael was instrumental in the SA Pharmacy Council accepting the registration of oncology pharmacists in private oncology clinics. To my knowledge, his practice, Rose Pharmacy, was the first on their list registered as an oncology pharmacy.

This was a major breakthrough and thus the “oncology pharmacists” position took shape. This paved the way for the registration of pharmacies in private oncology practices we have in place today. He also designed the pharmacy in accordance to the ISOPP and ESOP standards, with a cleanroom housing the Class 11 safety cabinet and pressure differentials.

Michael never gave up. He tried his utmost best to establish a part-time course at Wits Pharmacy School to allow oncology pharmacists to be recognised as oncology pharmacy specialists. This, however, was unsuccessful.

A course at the University of KZN Pharmacy School was proposed. Unfortunately, the costs were exorbitant and not viable.

Dr Patrice Bassompierre, of Tema Medical, contacted him with a proposal to form the Tema Oncology Pharmacist Group (TOPG). The founding meeting took place at O.R. Tambo in 2012 with pharmacists flown in from various cities in South Africa.

TOPG educational meetings were held at Irene Country Club, Vincent Pallotti Hospital in Cape Town, and Rosebank. A well-supported national meeting was also held in Bedfordview.

With the sudden death of Dr Patrice Bassompierre and restructuring of Tema Medical in South Africa, this collaboration has sadly fallen away.

Through Michael, SASOPH formed an association with SASMO.

This also opened a platform to allow the Society to have a section for pharmacists in the SASMO programme. This was utilised at their Sun City event in 2011, their Drakensburg meeting in 2013, and Cape Town in 2015 where I set up parallel sessions, allowing me to invite, amongst others, the president of ISSOP and the president of ESOP as speakers at the different events.

Michael encouraged many pharmacists in his lifetime. He was always happy to share his knowledge and never failed to assist and train where needed.

He had an extraordinary, amazing character. Those that had the privilege to work alongside him would vouch that he would tackle a task as if it was the most important single thing in the world. His true passion was oncology pharmacy.

With him passing away in 2016, he left a great legacy. We will always be grateful for his ground-breaking work.

To honour his vision, we are introducing a Michael Conidaris Award that recognises members for their professional achievements, and contributions to oncology pharmacy practice and to their patients.

Author: Carien van der Merwe
August 2017