Izukanne Emembolu, a 20-year- old pharmacy student of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Nnamdi Azikwe University, Awka, is the winner of the 2020 Pharmanews PANSite of the year award. In this interview with Pharmanews, she explains how she achieved the feat, while encouraging other youths to follow their passion and involve themselves in public health activities, stating that it will pay off in the end. Excerpts:
Tell us a little about your early life.
I was born on 3 December 1999, and I am the first child of my family. I am a native of Onitsha, Anambra State. I concluded my primary school education in 2010 and was enrolled into a boarding school at Holy Rosary College, Uwani, Enugu State, same year.
I graduated from secondary school in July 2016, and I’m currently 400 level student of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Nnamdi Azikwe University, Awka. I am currently the director of health for the Student Union Government (SUG).
Can you tell us why you chose to study Pharmacy?
I remember when I was growing up and how I acted in our family drama and children’s play. I was mostly mixing dusting powder as if I was trying to act as a doctor in that house drama. So, when it was time for me to choose a career, the first thing that came to my mind was a profession that involved mixing white things together.
I am also business-inclined. When I blended these two things and I saw my passion for public health, I thought to myself that Pharmacy was the best for me and since then I have not regretted choosing this path.
You spoke about some of the projects you do in school. Can you share with us some of those things you do aside from being a pharmacy student?
I do organise medical outreaches with PANS in my faculty and every year we, organise a health mission. The president chooses a town that we are going to visit and we provide them with free drugs and patient counselling. In 2018, I organised an outreach on World Hypertension Day with my friends and senior colleagues.
I am a member of the public health team of PANS national. Every world disease day, we look for a project that we carry out in a local chapter. This year, we decided to organise it in a church because we felt we could reach older people more in the church and they are the ones that need the free medications the most.
During the programme, we spoke to them about hypertension. We checked their BP and provided patient counselling. On World Hepatitis Day, I organised a two-day conference, in collaboration with Livewell Initiative and the president of the Pharmawrap Group. The first day was about hepatitis and Livewell did well to send us trainees that taught us how to test people on hepatitis.
Why do you think people voted for you as the PANSite of the year, and how did the process go?
I think the major reason people voted me was because of my involvement in public health activities. I am either part or cheerleading one event or the other and this gave me some kind of exposure.
It all happened one morning when I woke up to prepare for the usual day-to-day activities on campus and then I decided to go online. On getting there, I saw that the PANS president posted something on the group page on Pharmanews PANSite of the year.
Since it was a group chat, the president asked that we nominate the best person for the position. Fortunately for me, I got the highest nomination and they took me up to be the representative for UNIZIK. From there, my friends started nominating me on the Pharmanews page and from there we got to the voting stage and that was how I emerged the winner.
Do you intend having non-governmental organisation (NGO) at any time?
Initially, it was all about passion and then recently my grandma started suffering from hepatitis and she is currently on treatment. Even my uncle died from it and my aunt also died of diabetes. That was when I took up advocacy against non-communicable diseases. Having lost my family members to these diseases, I felt there is a need for me to enlighten and educate people because most of them are ignorant about it.
How do you feel being the first female to win the Pharmanews PANSite of the year?
I feel great – if not for anything, at least I know I have motivated a lady out there who would boldly come out to say if a man can do it, I can as well do it. It is not for the guys alone. If you are doing well, irrespective of your gender, you can also be recognised.
Where would you like to practise after schooling?
I would like to practise in an NGO. Recently, I started thinking of where I want to see myself in some years to come and the only thing ringing in my head is the World Health Organisation (WHO). This is so because they do what I am interested in doing and that is providing health service to the public, caring about their health and also keeping up to date with new drugs. Everything they do is about the public and that is what I am all about – providing selfless healthcare service to the public.
Now that you have won, what’s next?
As I said earlier, I believe in service to humanity and contributing my quota to the advancement of my society. Prior to winning this award, I had the vision of bringing more people into public health and drug abuse advocacy.
Another thing is that I also want to see Pharmanews do better. I want to make contributions to that success and also think of ideas I can provide the establishment with. If it needs my presence or online activities, I am ready to provide my all.