By Fabrice HUMURA, Regional Media and Publications Officer.
The name Danny Mutembe is not strange to the ears of pharmacists - mostly in Rwanda, for having an important role in revamping the profession and for his instrumental and supportive interventions. But Danny is not as famous as his community pharmacy, known as “Pharmacie conseil” which gave birth to other numerous branches.
Danny Mutembe ( on the left side) (Courtesy Photo)
I arrived at his working place a few minutes after 9am and, in the moment that I entered in his office, I was struck by how welcoming he was and the keen attention he gave me despite his demanding schedule.
After we exchanged our pleasantries, it was my turn to start asking questions.
Q: Tell us who is Danny Mutembe and his personal background.
Thank you! As you mentioned, my name is Danny Mutembe and I’m a pharmacist specialised in pharmaceutical engineering and industrial technologies. I was born in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, where I started my studies in a French-speaking school called Moamba. Later, I’ve moved to Rwanda, where I completed my secondary school prior to pursuing my university studies.
Q: It sounds like you’ve started moving at an early age.
Oh yes, right after completing my secondary studies, I went for my Bachelor’s degree in pharmacy. It was in India, and later I further pursued my studies to receive a Masters in pharmaceutical production in Belgium. I was fortunate to be exposed to numerous technologies in different parts of our continent and even in various places of the world.
Q: In what moment did you get that passion for pharmacy and how did it come to pass?
Actually, from a young age, I loved so much to dissect animals and I had consistently watched TV biology programs with my entire attention. In fact, I had a dream of becoming a cardiologist or a neurologist. However, choosing pharmacy ended up being a very diplomatic approach. My older sister, who is a medical doctor, advised me not to become a doctor. She said: “You see that we already have one doctor in the family, so it would not be fair if you became a doctor too. Let’s have a diversity of health professionals in the family. It would be better if you opt for pharmacy.” The advice was embraced by my father who was a pharmacist too, so he wanted to have one of his children doing the same as him. So, the choice for pharmacy was an overnight thinking. Then I went to India.
Q: So, after your studies, you’ve immediately come to community pharmacy or you’ve had other things to do?
After my studies in India, I went immediately to community pharmacy, where I learned the best practice in the field. This was in 2003.
Q: Did you join an existing pharmacy or did you immediately start one on your own?
I joined my family business, the Pharmacie Conseil when I was 19 years old. The people I’ve met were experienced and so I was able to learn things from them. Pharmacie Conseil was opened in Kinshasa in 1983. It was my father who established it right after leaving Hospital of Kinshasa, where he was the chief pharmacist. From 1986, Pharmacie Conseil was transferred to Rwanda.
Q: How old were you when you started pharmaceutical practice?
I was 23 years old. I’ve met intern pharmacists of my age and I met senior pharmacists.
Q: Being responsible at such a young age wasn’t that easy, I guess?
Oh sure, it was demanding at certain points. I started with a team of senior professionals, more experienced and resistant to change. I came up with new ideas and ways of doing things but they were not quick to adopt change, whatever I was coming up with it was either questioned or doubted as I was younger in the profession. I’ll give you an example. We used to make orders of medicines from abroad using faxes and phone calls which was extremely expensive so I brought a computer. It was not new then, but they had not yet started using e-mails and PDF files. They resisted to it but later on admitted to adopt it as it made the daily work more smooth and effective. After introducing this new idea, co-workers started gaining trust in me. I remember they started asking me what was new in the world, and I was viewed as someone with good, new ideas. When you are young, it is normal to have innovative ideas. In school you feel you want to change the world and as soon as you leave school, you think everybody in the world needs your help. I felt that it was paramount for me being there.
Q: From the time you have been in the profession, what are your outstanding achievements which you always feel proud of?
First of all, I’ll start with what I saw from my father and my seniors. Frankly speaking they were successful, but they felt contented with what they had and reluctant to go to another level. I came with the idea of expanding and growing beyond what we had. Fortunately, we grew from one community pharmacy we used to have, to other ones.
Q: You don’t solely work in community pharmacy; tell us how you came to represent your fellows at various decision-making platforms?
It started when I realized a bad image of pharmacists existed, for example, that we are here to make money. We lacked someone who would act as spokesperson to redefine our roles. I kept emphasizing that we are the people who help the community. We are not drug sellers as many notoriously think. By then I realized that the more I was involved, the more I got to be heard and started serving in public sectors including Ministry of Health, among others.
Q: What are the gaps that you still see in the pharmacy profession?
We don’t communicate enough in our sector. We tend to be silent on what is said about us, about our profession, so people don’t fully understand what pharmacists are really worth. As in other developed countries, a pharmacist is the bridge between healthcare professionals but is also used as a valuable professional because pharmacists are quickly approached by the people. Some of them are satisfied with counseling provided by pharmacists on non-communicable diseases, tuberculosis, AIDS and so on. We’re also trained to administer vaccines and to give injections in a certain manner. For instance, the vaccination for flu. A pharmacist is not a robot behind the counter saying yes or no to what has been prescribed but he is the custodian of medicines. He is the most knowledgeable person when it comes to pharmacology and that is a subject paramount in the entire medicine. So I think pharmacist have been set aside because they chose to let this happen.
Q: Are you satisfied with where you are? Or you still have other amazing things you feel you have not achieved yet?
To tell you the truth - I'm not. I’m always reminded that the good we have and do, should not bar us from the best we could and are capable of doing. The pharmacy sector in our country is the least developed as we are not producers yet, we solely import from other countries. I don’t think that this happened because they are smarter than us, but it’s because they have taken the lead. They started small by compounding. But here very few pharmacists do compounding, we are focusing on trending which is different from other countries. Other people see pharmacy as a gateway to production. This is what should happen and it has to start from us - not from other people.
Q: What is your message to young upcoming pharmacists, especially those who want to practice community pharmacy.
The young ones are coming at the right time and everything is already set - technology is at its peak, people communicate easily in seconds with high speed of high volumes of shared information. What they have to do is to think big and don’t limit themselves based on what others have done. We should not look at the work accomplished by a colleague pharmacist as the maximum that can be done. We should consider how to do it better and smarter. We are not doing even a 10th of what we are supposed to be doing. Of course, our patients will hold us accountable as they expect to be supplied with high-quality, affordable medicines, dispensed with care. We are currently doing quite the opposite as medicines are increasingly becoming more expensive and of course those medicines are running out on a daily basis in our hospitals. Another advice to young people is to see a fellow pharmacist as a colleague. We are not competitors even in community pharmacy, we are working for the betterment of our profession and the end result can be seen on our people. Let’s see how we can work together, support each other, form skills and pass them on to younger colleagues. Dream big, only the sky is the limit and I am quite sure that the young generation will do better than us.
Q: What is you parting message?
I am impressed with the younger generations, as they are more knowledgeable and they have that hunger to do great things. I hope that we will be there for them in a way they can reach their own capacity.
However, young people should put in mind that
The world belongs to the ones who wake up early,
To the ones who actually go and get it,
To the ones who don’t sit back and chill,
But to those who work hard,
So just make it happen!
Thanks Danny for talking to us.
You are welcome. It was great talking with you
Danny Mutembe (on the right side) with Regional Media and publications officer after interview.