Pharm. Frank Eze is the winner, Young Pharmacist of the Year 2019, an online poll organised by Pharmanews Ltd., for young pharmacists in Nigeria. In this exclusive interview with Pharmanews, Eze, founder of Rethink Initiative, a non-governmental organisation, explained the objective of the organisation and his plans for young pharmacists in the country. Excerpts:
How did you feel when you realised you had been nominated for the online poll?
First, I will say I was excited and at the same time I was afraid. I was excited because my work was being recognised and people did not just nominate Frank Eze; they nominated Rethink Initiative, based on the objectives and aims of the NGO. However, I was afraid because a lot of persons were looking up to me and the Rethink Initiative.
When you were eventually shortlisted for the poll, what happened?
Of course, the fear increased when I saw the likes of those I was contesting against – the likes of Funmbi Okoya, Austin Odibor, and others. Although we all are friends but I knew their capabilities. For the first five days, I was confused. But I later summoned courage not to let down those that had nominated me.
The best I knew I did was to put up a good profile of myself and the Rethink Initiative online and sent it to my friends, beginning from my school, Nnamdi Azikiwe University and the Pharmaceutical Association of Nigeria Students (PANS) because of my previous affiliation with them. My last position in PANS before my graduation was the PRO; that really helped me reach out to schools with the influence of my friends in the schools and that of the National PANS PRO and President at University of Port Harcourt.
It was a lot of campaign. Even some of the patients I had during my internship at the National Orthopaedic Hospital Igbobi (NOHI), my chief pharmacist, and other colleagues all participated in the campaign and voting process. So the campaign was massive; in fact, some of the places I got nominations from, I never knew I could be recognised there.
What do you have to say to all your friends who facilitated your emergence as winner, Young Pharmacist of the Year, 2019?
I would like to thank everybody that supported our campaign and voted us. I also appreciate the management of Pharmanews Limited for this great privilege. The recognition is a big honour not just for me but for the Rethink Initiative. It’s been a long way coming; we’ve dreamt of this day coming, but we didn’t know it was going to come so soon. Pharmanews has made it possible and it also means that we have to buckle up and ensure that we become more responsible in whatever we are doing in achieving the objective of the organisation.
I would also like to thank every young pharmacist out there that has voted us in this initiative. As to what they saw in us that prompted them to vote for us, we promise that we won’t let them down. This award also means that Pharmanews is really concerned and has it at heart that the pharmacy profession in Nigeria is greatly improved. The ultimate aim is to ensure that the quality of lives of people is improved which is one of the things that Rethink Initiative is doing. So, it is an alignment.
Also, being the recipient of this award means that I am now an ambassador of Pharmanews. This means that that wherever I go and in whatever I do, I must always ensure that I am found on the positive side and not in negativity because I wouldn’t want to do anything to the detriment of Pharmanews which means that I am going to live up to expectation.
This award too means that young pharmacists are really interested in ensuring that the health of the populace is improved and that is why they had to vote for Rethink Initiative, especially because it is something that is targeted towards the health of the populace. Our aim is to improve knowledge on diabetes and cardiovascular diseases in Nigeria because we believe that in achieving a sustainable development goal, which is good health and well-being for all ages, the prerequisite is literacy.
When you are aware of your numbers, you are aware that diabetes and hypertension are real and also aware that your health is in your hands, you take the necessary steps to watch what you eat, your lifestyle and ensure that you prevent yourself from coming down with these chronic diseases.
How many years have you practised as a young pharmacist? Where and when did you practise, before your present training?
I graduated from Nnamdi Azikiwe University in 2016. After that, I did my internship at the National Orthopaedic Hospital Igbobi in 2017. In 2018, I did my NYSC at the Global Fund, under the supervision of the Lagos State Ministry of Health, and I passed out in June 2019. Thereafter, I went to Mercy Gate Community Pharmacy at Berger. That was the last place I practised before this appointment with GSK.
What is the story behind Rethink Initiative?
Well, the whole idea about Rethink Initiative had been a long time coming. Since when I was in school, I had always thought of it, since my 200 level, when my father had a diabetic foot. Initially, I thought he was poisoned, because I never knew anything about diabetes then, until the doctor managing him at the orthopaedic hospital explained everything to me then. That was what got me thinking, that a lot of people are in danger of diabetes and hypertension because of ignorance.
In the long run, my father’s foot was amputated in 2017 and he died not long after that. It was his death that really catalysed this initiative, and the condition of my mother too, being diabetic. That is why our major targets are those in the rural areas, who do not understand much about diabetes and hypertension.
Where have you been in advocating the objectives of Rethink Initiative?
Since we are in a digital world, I can say we have been to everywhere in the world, because we are very active online. Then, for physical presence, we are currently working with four community pharmacies. For every person that visits the pharmacies, we ask them, “Ma/Sir, when last did you check your blood sugar?” If the person hasn’t checked in a long while, we provide them free test strips to check their blood sugar, while their blood pressure is checked too. This is to encourage those who cannot pay to check their blood sugar free of charge.
We also go to places of worship to enlighten different groups on health education. We are also planning quarterly medical mission, to go out there and enlighten people, though we don’t give out drugs.
Now that you have emerged Young Pharmacist of the Year, 2019, what are the things you have in mind to increase your activities?
People believe in Rethink Initiative, that was why they voted us. This means we have to increase our availability and work pace. This award has also made me realise that young pharmacists are willing to help; so, one of the things we are going to do now, is to involve more young pharmacists, because about 60 to 70 per cent of them work in community practice, we will involve more of them in conducting free blood sugar test, while we await sponsorship for more test strips to enhance the smooth running of this programme.