Dr JEAN DAMASCENE NTAWUKURIRYAYO IS OUR PERSONALITY OF FEBRUARY
By Fabrice HUMURA, Regional Media and Publications Officer.
Hon. Dr Jean-Damascène Ntawukuriryayo (Courtesy Photo)
The name, Dr Jean-Damascène Ntawukuriryayo, is illustrious in the health sector. He appears on various decision-making boards in Rwanda, but only a handful of people know of his unwavering passion for the pharmaceutical sector which is undeniably unmatched.
Dr. Ntawukuriryayo is not an ordinary man. He has held several eminent political positions including the State Minister for Higher Education and Scientific Research, Minister of Infrastructure, Health Minister, Vice President of Chambers of Deputies and, in 2011, he was the President of the Senate of Rwanda. It is, therefore, not surprising that I was a little bit nervous about meeting and interviewing him.
You can easily understand why he postponed our interview appointment a number of times due to his tight schedule and unexpected urgent events that arose. Nevertheless, he continued to acknowledge my attempts to contact him and ultimately, we met. As I arrived at the Rwandan Parliament in Kigali city where he is currently serving as a senator, he stared at me in a welcoming way. After we exchanged pleasantries, our interview began.
Q: I’ll start with your educational background and, more specifically, with pharmacy. How did you start in pharmacy and did you ever dream of being a pharmacist?
Thank you for your question. Back then, I had no clue what pharmacy is. It is not like today where you have internet and can access all sorts of information from every part of the world. We did not even have people to look up to in the profession. I, however, aimed at excelling in whatever course I started.
I dreamt of becoming a chemist since secondary school because I enjoyed titrating and conducting different chemical reactions. Reaching university, I was directed into pharmacy, which I had never thought about. So that’s how I entered the pharmacy profession. I earned a Bachelor of Arts in Pharmacy from the National University of Rwanda. I continued on to complete my Masters and, finally, a PhD in pharmaceutical technology from Ghent University in Belgium.
Q: That’s interesting to know. You became more famous in politics than in pharmacy as a profession, though. Could you share with us how you got into the political area?
I can’t really figure out how exactly I got into politics. First and foremost, though, I am happy with the improvements I have made in the pharmacy profession along with other pharmacists. Most of my work focused on laws that underpin what pharmacists do and sustain the decency of the profession.
Something else I am proud of is the time I spent at the National University of Rwanda. It was pleasing to note how one’s efforts produced more pharmacists that would be of great support to the community.
I was made Vice Rector in charge of Administration and Finance at the National University of Rwanda and later, I was appointed to the cabinet as the Minister of State for Higher Education and Scientific Research in 1999. From that time, I held various positions at a ministry level such as infrastructure and health. In the following years, I continued to serve in the Chamber of Deputies and Senate where I currently work.
Q: Let’s continue this discussion...how do pharmacists in leadership roles impact or affect the profession?
Pharmacists have the opportunity to lead in the pharmaceutical arena and other related works. This may open doors to other advanced levels of the profession depending on the efforts invested.
First and foremost, as pharmacy students and young professionals in general, you should question your responsibilities and what messages you ought to deliver vis-a-vis to people and society at large.
Secondly, you should fight for the progress of your profession because when your profession advances, you, yourself, advance as well. When you succeed at that, you fulfill your leadership responsibilities.
Leadership is not just a destination but rather, a journey and a change of mindset that is not necessarily learned from a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy. It does not automatically give you a passion for dispensing. Leadership requires you to be open and to embrace what is being done well in other parts of the world, in order to bring that practice back home.
Q: Hon, let’s talk about the status quo of pharmacists as drug sellers. How do you challenge young professionals to change this common misconception?
That’s an interesting question which I think should be a reminder to young professionals that they need to be passionate about the profession. We have to bear in mind that the profession is not simply about dispensing medications, where a pharmacist stands in a retail shop, receives money and dispenses medications. Instead, young pharmacists need to be open-minded and not restrict themselves to a single practice area. They should also actively attend conferences as these events present opportunities to meet people who have overcome challenges. These people and events are resources that young pharmacists need to tap into as they are helpful in improving a young pharmacist’s leadership capacity.
Q: The world is advancing in the area of artificial intelligence and, more generally, in technology. How does this reflect on the pharmacy profession?
The first question that comes to mind when one mentions technology is why we are in need of it. The prime purpose of technology has always been to quicken service delivery by minimizing errors on an individual level while producing accurate results.
We still have gaps, however, in service delivery where we should further focus our efforts. This includes ensuring information is available to patients, making use of innovative technology that can connect pharmacists and the easy exchange of both information and medications.
For instance, if a patient enters a pharmacy and inquires about a medication that you don’t keep in stock, there should be an automatic system where you can directly command and inquire about the supply of such a medication. Technology, therefore, is paramount in ensuring services are delivered more efficiently.
Q: Don’t you think technology will potentially take the jobs of future pharmacists and leave them unemployed?
Yes, people may complain that as technology rises, pharmacists may become unemployed, however this is not true. Say you employed two pharmacists in your retail pharmacy. By introducing technology, you will keep only one pharmacist. This is not bad at all, though, to the other pharmacist as s/he will be able to further pursue the profession in other areas which had not been focused on before including drug analysis, marketing and research.
By incorporating technology, it does not imply that we are excluding people or making them unemployed. No matter how advanced technology will be, a person’s mind and conscience will be indispensable in one way or another. There are still jobs and responsibilities that are impossible for robots to deliver.
Q: Let’s get back to leadership but this time let’s focus on hospital management and leadership which has been solely in the hands of medical doctors, specifically in Rwanda and in several other states. Can’t pharmacists be allowed to lead hospitals? If so, how soon?
That’s a good question, and I would challenge pharmacists by telling them that it begins primarily with themselves by refusing the common rhetoric of being known as drug sellers. Pharmacists need firstly, to display their potential. They are able to deliver so much in a healthcare team so seeing a pharmacist leading hospitals would not be a surprise. If a pharmacist is trusted to lead a health ministry, leading the healthcare profession in other aspects shouldn't be doubted. As said earlier, however, pharmacists need to acknowledge that leadership starts by adopting a mindset that does not limit itself.
Hon Dr Ntawukuriryayo, thank you for your time and inspiration!
Hon Dr N. Jean Damascene (on the left side) with Regional Media and publications officer.