Pharm. (Mrs) Regina Ezenwa is a respected and well-known community pharmacist. A Fellow of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), she is the managing director of Rozec Pharmacy, Lagos. But perhaps she is best known as the founder and vision-bearer of The Roses Ministry, through which she is living her passion of helping the needy, the widows and the less-privileged in society. In this exclusive interview with MOSES DIKE, the veteran pharmacist, who recently joined the league of septuagenarians, recounts the major milestones of her life and how she is just adjusting to the realities of life at 70. She also expresses her desire for quality and affordable healthcare in Nigeria, while and offering valuable advice to the younger generation of pharmacists. Excerpts:
It is our pleasure to welcome you to the senior citizens group. Kindly tell us about your background, career path and the events that have helped to shape your adult personality.
Thank you for welcoming me to this prestigious senior citizens group. I am Regina Ezenwa, nee Anyaegbuna. I am the second child and first daughter of seven children of the late Chief J.B.C. Anyaegbuna – also known as Apostle of Integrity, who retired meritoriously as a permanent secretary in Eastern Nigeria and as federal electoral commissioner in the 2nd Republic; and Ezinne Mrs Levinna Anyaegbuna (Chinyelugo) – a London trained seamstress-turned-businesswoman, who raised us to be God-fearing and with lots of love.
I attended the best schools of my time. By God’s grace, starting school at St. Barth’s School, Enugu – a prestigious primary school, where the likes of Ngozi Azikiwe, the first daughter of Nigeria’s first president, had passed through – through Government Practising School, Uyo, and ending at WTC. Government Practising School, Enugu, with Distinction in my First School Leaving Certificate Examination.
I passed the very competitive exams into the prestigious and only government girls’ school in Eastern Nigeria, Queens’ School, Enugu, and was awarded the Eastern Nigerian Government’s full scholarship on merit, for my entire secondary school education.
I left for St. Anne’s School, Ibadan for my A’ Levels. In my brief stay at St Anne’s, I left indelible marks in my academics, winning the monthly prize for Chemistry throughout my stay. I was also active in sports like long jump and netball where I became the netball captain.
From St Anne’s, I went on to University of Ife, Ile-Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) to study Pharmacy. I started with a Federal Government Scholarship but in my second year, I was awarded the university scholarship and graduated with a second class (honours) degree, B. Pharm. I was offered one of the limited opportunities to study for a master’s degree in the same year as the mandatory pharmacy internship. I took up the offer and successfully completed both at the expected time, while serving as a graduate assistant.
For my national service (NYSC), I was a lecturer at the School of Health Technology, Akure. At the end of my service year, I got married to Obidi, who was an engineer with Schlumberger in Port Harcourt. So, I left the business of completing my PhD and lecturing, to joyfully join the Rivers State-owned Drug Manufacturing Laboratory. Working with bosses who gave me a free hand, I revitalised the manufacturing process, increased product types, as well as the quantity and frequency of production, to meet the needs of hospitals in Rivers State. In-between manufacturing processes, I helped out in the State Pharmaceutical Store, which was in the same premises.
I got an offer and took up the position as a hospital pharmacist at NNPC, Medical Division, Port Harcourt, but moved with my husband to Lagos, transferring internally to NNPC Medical, Lagos. I later resigned from NNPC to fulfil my passion of community service, setting up Rozec Pharmacy Ltd in 1986. Rozec Pharmacy is known for its high standard of ethical practice, serving as a training centre for young pharmacists, pharmacy interns and students.
Recently, you clocked 70 years of age. How has this affected your priorities and how are you trying to adjust to the realities of old age?
Glory be to God who has graciously given me life for 70 full years. I look back with a sense of awe at God’s goodness to me. My priorities have moved from placing physical and ephemeral (though important) things on the top burner to prioritising the purpose of God, as it is clear that I am nearer the end now than 70 years ago. So I have less time to finish the work God has placed in my hands, starting from my “Jerusalem” – family; “Judea” – friends and acquaintances; “Samaria” – evangelism to all, especially the vulnerable and the despised; to “the ends of the earth” – all! (Acts 1:8).
I prioritise diet and exercise, and as a dedicated Christian, prayer. My diet includes much more vegetable than previously, less oil and salt, and no artificial sugars. In the last few years, I have included, in my diet, health-enhancing juices, made of raw vegetables, with 70 per cent carrots from slow masticating Hurom juicer; smoothies and more natural products. The health benefits of exercise cannot be overemphasised. I take brisk walks, at least, three to five times weekly.
My prayer life, which gained power at age 17, when I gave my life to Christ, as my Lord and Saviour, has gained momentum. I have covenant times of prayer and studying the Bible, in addition to set times for The Roses Ministry and church. I wish I could say that I have been totally obedient to my Lord in my 70 years but thanks be to our compassionate and merciful God, I can say that I am more determined to live in greater obedience to the word of God.
I have learnt not to carry burdens I do not have solutions to; so I cast them to the Lord in prayer. I have learnt to love myself more and to dwell more on my strengths than cry over my weaknesses. I decongest my wardrobe, home and kitchen store from time to time and give out clothes and items. I am much more generous.
How did you come about your choice of Pharmacy as a course of study? Did you have any role models in your younger days who guided you to make the choice?
Incidentally, I did not have any pharmacists as role models in my growing up years. I was an all-round student, doing as well in the arts subjects as in the science subjects. I had to make my choice of course of study at the end of the civil war. This was influenced by practical experiences of life. As a Girls Guide, at the beginning of the war, we were taken to the hospital to assist in taking care of patients who were brought in daily from northern Nigeria during the pogrom, in which millions were brutally wounded. That was my first exposure to the wounded, the weak and the vulnerable and I was passionate about giving a helping hand.
During the war, I felt the pain of many refugees, as my mum would send me to the refugee camp to take food items to some of them. We joined in making “dry packs” of snacks to be sent to the soldiers in the warfronts. When a clinic was opened in our estate, I helped out in rolling up cotton wool balls and first aid packs to be used to treat the sick and the wounded around us from air raid, etc. The impact of these experiences on my compassionate nature made me desire to study Medicine, as I felt I would be able to help more people. However, my Dad advised me to consider Pharmacy.
Surprisingly, unlike the situation at Queen’s School, Enugu, where many of us top science students felt our first choice should be Medicine, at St. Anne’s, Ibadan, where I went for my A’ Levels, the first choice of the top science students was Pharmacy. Taking my dad’s advice into consideration, the excitement for Pharmacy caught up with me. The Lord gave me what I desired and I got admission into the best pharmacy school at that time, the University of Ife (now OAU). And I will confidently say that becoming a pharmacist is one of my best choices in life. I am fulfilled as a pharmacist.
What is it about Pharmacy that gives you the biggest fulfilment or happiness?
As I mentioned earlier, I have worked in different aspects of Pharmacy but my greatest joy and accomplishment has been in community pharmacy, as it has offered me the opportunity to achieve definable positive health outcomes in the lives of patients. I remember countless patients who came in to buy medications that would have just given temporary relief but received pharmaceutical care that brought healing; women who came in to buy ovulatory stimulants but received pharmaceutical counselling and, for those who accepted, prayers too. And many came back to put their babies in my arms. I remember a particular lady who followed my counsel and had a son. She left Lagos but came back about over a decade later, with three boys when I had forgotten who she was.
You were at some point in academia before coming to community pharmacy practice. What informed your decision to make this switch?
Academia is fulfilling in research, as well as impacting the lives of young ones and training them to become pharmacists. But community pharmacy brings to fulfilment the passion for service, the compassion to be an instrument in changing lives, bringing healing and solutions; and, at the same time, it involves training younger colleagues.
I also revel in the number of pharmacists who received some training at Rozec Pharmacy, which made impacts in their lives. Many of them have set up flourishing practices that give me joy. In fact, one of them once called me that they should have “Alumni of Rozec Pharmacy Pharmacists”.
Community pharmacy is like becoming pregnant, carrying it to full term and giving birth to a baby; then nurturing the baby to responsible adulthood. My choice, any day is community pharmacy!
As a senior pharmacist, which of the issues affecting Pharmacy and healthcare in general would you like the government and stakeholders to address more frontally, especially as we have ushered in a new government in Nigeria?
I desire to see a new Nigeria with a healthcare system where medical care and medicines are affordable to the poorest, where lives are not lost when they can be saved through good healthcare. It is feasible, especially in the light of wasted resources and the humongous amounts of funds that are lost through corruption. These can be used in improving healthcare.
I desire to see a new Nigeria, where the rest of West Africa, Africa and beyond come to order their medicines, as a result of the high quality. Most medicines made in Nigeria are of international quality but the restrictions come from how the country is perceived and, of course, huge costs of production.
I desire to see a new Nigeria, where a minimum of 50 to 70 per cent of our drug needs are manufactured in Nigeria. Presently, it is 30 per cent. I desire to see a new Nigeria, where the medical professionals restrict their practice to their profession, respect other members of the healthcare team, and work together as a team to offer the best possible healthcare to our people.
Tell us more about The Roses Ministry, the vision behind it and how you are managing to pursue this vision, especially in a difficult economy like Nigeria.
The Roses Ministry is a ministry founded from a vision to show God’s love in practical ways to the hurting and the vulnerable. The ministry reaches out mainly to vulnerable women, especially widows and youths, with a focus on physical, mental and spiritual restoration and rehabilitation.
The Roses does this through business enhancement schemes for vulnerable women, especially widows; quarterly healthcare programmes for indigent widows, with focus on monitoring and free medicines for hypertension and diabetes especially; vocational trainings, seminars and crafts trainings for youths, as well as scholarships for children of indigent widows.
We are able to pursue this vision and run with it as a result of passionate volunteers and partners that the Lord has raised at this very difficult time in Nigeria. We acknowledge Pharmanews that attends and publicises our programsme; pharmaceutical companies that graciously give us medicines and funds to enable us carry out our free healthcare to the indigent widows, keeping them alive and healthy – especially Jawa Pharma., Annie Pharma., Reals Pharma., Emzor Pharma., Sam Pharma., and New Heights Pharma.
Our annual healthcare outreach is carried out as a collaboration with ACPN, Surulere Zone, in offering pharmaceutical care, medicines and funds to all patients, sometimes running into over 1,000.
How do you relax? Tell us about some of the pastime activities and lifestyle modifications you have adopted to stay fit and active.
I take brisk walks and engage in writing. I have authored three books and I am a regular speaker on a wide range of topics. I love reading, travelling and visiting new places. As much as this seems like work, I relax with prayers and communion with God and sharing experiences and testimonies of God’s goodness with others, as well the joys of bringing solutions to the problems of others.
One of the greatest gifts God has given me is my family. I have been married to Engr Obidi Ezenwa for 44 years, and we are blessed with four outstanding children (altogether seven, through marriage – that is, in-laws) and five beautiful and loving grandchildren and counting, by the grace of God. These children are individually making their marks in their chosen careers, to the glory of God. Their love and successes strengthen me and add life to my years. None of my children chose to study Pharmacy or any health-related profession but each of them is already making waves in the professions they chose, which is very fulfilling for me.
Given your wealth of experience, what advice would you like to give to the younger generation of pharmacists on how to make the best use of their calling as healthcare professionals to impact humanity positively?
Pharmacy is a profession and more. It is a calling. For several years, pharmacists have been at the top of the Gallup’s annual survey of professionals that rank the highest in “honesty and ethics” and among the top five most trusted professionals in the US. Of course, we know that availability, approachability and reliability have really helped to position pharmacists as trusted healthcare providers.
In my generation, I think I can boldly say that if these surveys are carried out in Nigeria, pharmacists may rank topmost as the most trusted professional. This seems to be changing, however. So, my challenge to the younger generation of pharmacists is to always do a self-check on their calling and focus on their impact on humanity, much more than profits. The impact of pharmaceutical care services lives on in the patients that are touched, whereas money is just for a short time and is soon spent and forgotten.