The name “Arinze Awiligwe” is, no doubt, one that rings a bell among young pharmacists in Nigeria and beyond. A pharmacy graduate from the University of Lagos and former national president, Pharmaceutical Association of Nigeria Students (PANS), he spearheaded the process that led to the enlistment of PANS Nigeria into the membership of the International Pharmaceutical Students Federation (IPSF) in 2013. In this exclusive interview with Pharmanews, Awiligwe reveals the circumstances that led to his emergence as IPSF chairperson for Africa for 2016/2017, the first Nigerian to attain such feat. He also discusses his administration’s plan for the association. Excerpts:
You must have set some objectives yourself when you were in pharmacy school; how much of these have been achieved so far?
To be honest, I would say that these objectives are still playing out because they are huge and even I sometimes consider them incredible. I am constantly ensuring that I set the right foundations to reach my dreams. For now, the immediate objectives are intended to set the stage for the bigger ones, because little drops make an ocean. It is increasingly becoming a herculean task for young professionals to achieve their goals in this part of the world, but with determination, focus, lots of studying and hard work, the sky is only the starting point.
How did you become IPSF chairperson for African Regional Office?
My journey with the IPSF started in 2013 as a fourth year student when I led the application of PANS Nigeria into becoming a member of the global organisation. We had so much to offer on the global stage and needed so much to learn as motivated students. The efforts of the then PANS team and I, as the national president, together with the then PSN leadership, saw the successful membership application and consequent acceptance by the IPSF General Assembly in Utrecht, the Netherlands in the same year.
In May 2014, I joined a 20-man delegation of pharmacy students from different continents to the World Health Assembly in Geneva Switzerland where I took part in policy development on health-related matters on behalf of the federation. I went further to represent Nigeria at the IPSF world Congress in Porto, Portugal, where I gained the IPSF certified leader status, having completed the Leaders-in-Training programme.
In August 2015, I, together with Mr Aniekan Ekpeyong and Ms Juliet Obi, also represented Nigeria at the IPSF World Congress in Hyderabad, India as an official delegate. There, important decisions were made and lessons were learnt. In 2016, I once again, represented Nigeria at the 5th African Pharmaceutical Symposium and the 62nd IPSF World Congress in Kenya and Zimbabwe respectively. These experiences were life-changing, empowering and inspiring. They actually inspired me to take the role of the chairperson of the African Regional Office of IPSF. I was elected by official delegates of member countries present during the IPSF African Regional Assembly in Mombasa, Kenya 2016. The election was then approved by the General Assembly of IPSF in Harare, Zimbabwe in August 2016.
What are your plans for IPSF for the next one year and how do you intend to achieve them?
I intend to represent the member associations of the African region in every ramification within the confines of my position, international access and in strong considerations of local content and scales of priority. My team and I are already at the forefront of engaging in relevant dialogues and decision-making processes for the benefit of pharmacy students and recent graduates in Africa.
Through the IPSF professional development, pharmacy education, public health campaigns and student exchange programmes, pharmacy students and recent graduates in the region can imbibe capacity-building experiences into becoming well-rounded professionals. My colleagues and I in the executive are motivated to ensure that member associations derive the many opportunities that are consistent with being part of a global organisation, while also contributing to the development of the profession in the region.
Meanwhile, being a non-governmental organisation, the support of partners, national pharmacy bodies and related organisations will be critical in achieving these impactful feats.
What are the specific challenges facing IPSF in Africa and how can they be surmounted?
Challenges are inevitable. The most resounding challenge faced by IPSF in the region is the issue of relatively low support for pharmacy students and recent graduates to partake in IPSF programmes and events. This invariably causes low interest by pharmacy associations in the region.
Stakeholders must begin to invest in the future of the profession by availing young professionals with capacity-building and international best practice experiences beyond the four walls of the classroom through grants and sponsorships. Increased support would mean improved intellectual programmes and impactful projects, international events participation, research opportunities and improved ability to contend with colleagues from the rest of the world.
Members from the region are full of potentials and enthusiasm to make a difference and to make global impact. In line with SDG 9, an enabling environment consistent with enabling infrastructure and innovations are requisite for long-lasting development. It is a delight to be the first Nigerian to hold the position but I am not the only Nigerian in the executive committee. Ms. Juliet Onyinyechi Obi is a member of the executive committee and is also the first Nigerian to be elected as the professional development chairperson of IPSF.
In 2018, Nigeria will host the largest gathering of Pharmacy students and recent graduates from the African continent at the 7th African Pharmaceutical Symposium, in the city of Lagos.
Being a former PANS national president, how often do you still participate in PANS-related activities?
My tenure as the national president of PANS ended almost three years ago, right before my graduation. I have since been involved only on advisory basis and only when reached out to. Pharmacy students from PANS Igbinedion University, Okada, invited me in July 2016 during the first Leaders-in-Training event in Nigeria organised by Mr Adeyemi Sylvester, to give a talk and be a part of the trainers. It turned out to be impactful.
I have also supported the PANS IPSF contact person and the student exchange officer for two years now with the aim of sustaining IPSF impact in Nigeria.
What is your advice to young pharmacists who are willing to come into the practice?
Gold, when mined, looks dirty and unattractive. It is then subjected to intense, rigorous processes to purify it. In the end, it becomes lustrous and highly prized. Pharmacy practice can be intense, but you always eventually become invaluable. The opportunities are numerous, the profession is noble and the service to humanity is divine. Come on board!
What message do you have for your colleagues across the continent?
Study really hard and develop your mind. Get a mentor and learn a lot. Increase your value and make impact. Take good advantage of every opportunity that comes your way while they still do and make the world your oyster.