AfRO Shines A Light On Aniekan Ekpenyong
This month, in commemoration of the World Pharmacy Week as recognised by the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP), IPSF-AfRO shines a light on an emerging global health pharmacist, Pharm Aniekan Ekpenyong. Having served as the IPSF Contact Person for Nigeria, IPSF-AfRO Regional Secretary as well as the IPSF Policy Co-Coordinator, Pharm Ekpenyong shares with us his IPSF journey as well as his current interests in climate change. He is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh with support from the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission. An award-winning changemaker, Pharm Aniekan Ekpenyong exudes excellence in all his endeavours. From the FIP YPG Professional Innovation Grant (2016), to the Gombe State Honours Award (2019), to his recognition as a Student Sustainability Champion (University of Edinburgh, 2019), to The Edinburgh Award (University of Edinburgh, 2020), Pharm Ekpenyong has truly shown to be a light. We are so delighted to share his story with you. Enjoy!
IPSF-AfRO: The name "Aniekan Ekpenyong" is not new in the circles of pharmacy students and young pharmacists in Nigeria and beyond. I must say that you have distinguished yourself and many are itching to be in your network. For the sake of those who may not know you quite well, please share, who is this trailblazer, Aniekan Ekpenyong? 😁
Pharm Ekpenyong: Thanks for the honour and opportunity. I am Aniekan Ekpenyong and I serve as the Director for Africa at Global Health Focus (GHF), an initiative that aims to raise a community of critical thinkers and leaders in global health, who will contribute to building a healthier and an equitable world. I hold a Bachelor of Pharmacy degree from University of Uyo, Nigeria. I am passionate about global health, youth leadership, and climate change and I am committed to raising and mentoring the next generation of leaders in Africa.
IPSF-AfRO: Looking through your previous experiences, one can see how deliberate you are in your choice of capacity building experiences. Which of them would you say played a defining role in your life?
Pharm Ekpenyong: One of the most important choices I have made in capacity building has been engaging with IPSF. I remember becoming passionate about IPSF in my third year in the University. It gave me a foray into life beyond Pharmacy school. IPSF gave me a platform to create the world I want to see. I think joining IPSF played a crucial role in my development, as it opened my eyes to possibilities and handed me the tools to shape my future.
IPSF-AfRO: Why pharmacy, Aniekan? Why did you ditch all others for this one profession, pharmacy? 😁
Pharm Ekpenyong: My family background played a huge role in this. My uncle is a medical doctor. A relative of mine is a pharmacist. I always love to see people get well. I remember when I was in boarding school, SS2, when one of my colleagues was quite sick. My mum had given me some medicines for emergencies in school. I went to my locker and gave him some. I followed up with him, till he got well. I guess I always had a thing for the healthcare profession. The choice was between pharmacy and medicine. I am not a 'hospital' person. I'm not sure I can withstand blood. So I felt pharmacy would help me live out my passion of seeing people get well, without necessarily working in a hospital. That's why I chose pharmacy.
IPSF-AfRO: Interesting 😊. From your first IPSF engagement, you grew to serve as the secretary of IPSF-AfRO. Could you share your IPSF journey with us?
Pharm Ekpenyong: It's quite interesting. I was in my third year in the University when PANS national body required someone to run for the position of the Contact Person during the national elections. One of the electoral officers reached out to me to discuss the possibility of running for the position. Before then, I never really knew much about IPSF. It wasn't popular. I knew that Arinze and some folks in Lagos were active in IPSF. I decided to take up the challenge. I read about IPSF and I found it to be an exciting opportunity to relate with pharmacy students all over the world. I travelled to Abuja for the Unity PANS conference where the elections would hold. Luckily, I won the election and became the Contact Person for IPSF. A highlight of my tenure was obtaining the Full Membership for PANS in IPSF, following the work Arinze did in re-registering Nigeria as an IPSF Member in Association (MIA), after some years of relative inactivity of Nigeria on the international scene. After that, I became the Secretary of the African regional office. I thereafter ran for the position of Chairperson, but I lost. I then decided to apply ,and got appointed as the IPSF Policy Co-coordinator to lead the policy work of the federation. I chose to retire after about four years of active service in IPSF. I stepped down to allow my friends and other people to serve in the available positions. 😃
IPSF-AfRO: I see that you are currently a master's student at the University of Edinburgh. Global health pharmacy is a field of practice which many IPSFers may be a bit unfamiliar with. Please tell us what it entails.
Pharm Ekpenyong: I think this is an apt question especially considering the theme of this year's World Pharmacists Day as announced by the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP): Transforming Global Health. Global Health is a concept that has been in existence for a while. It is basically an area of study, research and practice that deals with health issues that cross boundaries, for example COVID'19. It's about health issues that have the propensity to affect other countries. With globalisation comes health issues that transcend national boundaries. The Ministry of Health in each country is concerned with national health issues. With global health, we need institutions, policymakers and policies that are able to address health issues that transcend boundaries. Global health pharmacy is basically the application of pharmacy to global health issues. What are the issues bordering on medicines, that cross boundaries? Issues like access to medicines, drug quality, neglected tropical diseases and drugs to treat them, antimicrobial resistance, orphan drugs, medication errors, fake and substandard medicines etc. Global health pharmacy basically involves utilizing pharmacy principles in addressing global health issues. I believe global health pharmacy is an opportunity for pharmacists to offer pharmaceutical perspectives to global health issues. IPSF represents about 350,000 pharmacy students all over the world and is able to leverage on its global partnerships to prepare pharmacy students to address global health issues.
IPSF-AfRO: How can pharmacists be more actively involved in global health?
Pharm Ekpenyong: I believe this is an important question and it requires a lot of thought. Pharmacists must know that they are required in global health. If they are not aware of this, it becomes difficult to play that role. There are a lot of ways in which pharmacists can get involved: getting involved in access to medicines programmes, immunization programmes, policymaking and advocacy campaigns, programme management, monitoring and evaluation, supply chain management etc. The most important point to note is that pharmacists must know that they have a role in global health and must start exploring ways to get involved.
IPSF-AfRO: I am aware that you won more than one master's scholarship and you settled for the Master's in Global Health Policy programme at the University of Edinburgh. Could you share what made you successful in your applications?
Pharm Ekpenyong: I would say I am really grateful to God to have obtained two scholarships. I applied eight times for a scholarship. I was awarded a scholarship by the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission. The second one was by the Hadassah Braun School of Public Health, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. What's the most important thing when applying for scholarships? One, know that a lot of individuals apply for scholarships. You want to be the best, so you have to submit a strong application. Two, know your why. Why do you want a scholarship? What are your career goals? For me, I am passionate about global health, so I believe I needed a master's in global health to be able to advance my career goals. I outlined what I had done and what I intended to do with the knowledge obtained from an advanced degree in global health.Three, know the universities you want. I applied to the University of Edinburgh because they are experts in global health policy. I wanted a place where I could be equipped with skills to influence the policy landscape in developing countries, such as Africa. Choose a university that is able to support your ambition and sponsor your academics as well. For example, University of Edinburgh is co-sponsoring my scholarship. Four, you have to be a volunteer. Seize every opportunity to give back to the society. I believe that my scholarship applications have stood out because of my volunteering experiences. IPSF gave me an opportunity to volunteer especially with the public health and pharmacy education campaigns. Five, you need a good grade as well. Balance your academics with volunteering experiences. Six, write. Publish your work on blogs, Medium etc. Write papers. This shows that you have strong analytical skills. Doing all these does not guarantee that you will get the scholarship the first time. You may need to apply more than once. If you have a strong why, it will help you to keep trying and hoping for positive outcomes.
IPSF-AfRO: What would you advise pharmacy students and pharmacists who seek to study on scholarship for their postgraduate degree?
Pharm Ekpenyong: The first point is to know your why. Why do you want a postgraduate degree? Knowing your why will help you know your how. Do you need a postgraduate degree to become a better clinical pharmacist, a better global health pharmacist, a better hospital pharmacist or any other thing you aspire to become? Would you need fellowships? What do you need in order to get to where you desire? Know it, then go for it.
IPSF-AfRO: You have a track record of excellence indicated in the awards and recognitions you have received. From the FIP YPG Professional Innovation Grant (2016), to the Gombe State Honours Award (2019), to your recognition as a Student Sustainability Champion (University of Edinburgh, 2019), to The Edinburgh Award (University of Edinburgh, 2020), you have always proven outstanding. What spurs you?
Pharm Ekpenyong: Wanting to make a difference. I have the belief that I should make a difference wherever I find myself and in whatever I do. The desire to be different and to make a difference. I think that sums it. I advise people to always have a goal: What do you want to make better? What do you want to become after your journey? For example, when I joined the University of Edinburgh, I decided that I wanted to be a part of the student community. I wanted to be different and make a difference. I did that and I got the award. Simple! Be different. Make a difference.
IPSF-AfRO: It is fascinating to know that you are interested in climate change. What's in climate change for pharmacists?
Pharm Ekpenyong: With a changing climate comes health challenges, both directly and indirectly. Thousands of people die from heat waves regularly, but it doesn't seem to be common issue in Africa. I think it occurs but is largely undocumented. Heat waves are known to cause cardiovascular and cerebrovascular mortality. Heat waves, floods, hurricanes etc are some direct effects of climate change. Disease burdens are indirect impacts of climate. Because climate change is a thing now, we need pharmacists to address the medicinal implications of climate change. Heat waves could affect the storage temperature of medicines which could in turn affect the quality and efficacy of medicines. Biodiversity loss occasioned by a changing climate could lead to the loss of plants with medicinal uses. As pharmacists, we are to safeguard the quality of medicines. Extreme weather conditions could also result in disruption of supply chain of medicines. This could have adverse effects on persons with chronic medical conditions who require regular supply of drugs such as antiretroviral drugs, antihypertensives etc. Therefore, there is a need for pharmacists to take an interest in climate change and provide pharmaceutical services to address this emerging global health crisis
IPSF-AfRO: Your record of failures and rejections in IPSF and scholarship applications didn't deter you from trying again. I see resilience. What is the major lesson you have learnt from failures and rejections?
Pharm Ekpenyong: I like that you mentioned resilience. When you really want something, you want it bad. When you want it bad, it motivates you to keep trying. Also, I think it is important to know when failure means either 'move on' or 'keep trying'. For me, in IPSF, after I lost the Chairperson position, I decided to move on and let others gain the opportunity to serve. When I didn't get the scholarship, I kept trying because I felt I was good enough and I could get it. We need to know when it's okay to move on or keep trying. I think that's where instincts or guts come into play. You need to figure it out.
IPSF-AfRO: What's your advice to pharmacy students who seek clarity with regards to choice of specialty as well as balance of academics and extracurricular activities?
Pharm Ekpenyong: One, know yourself. Two, try things out. Three, give it time. When you know yourself, you'll know where exactly you can function well. Also, there are no protocols to knowing oneself. It takes time. Trying things out also helps you to know yourself. I settled for global health after trying out other aspects of pharmacy. Regarding balance, it largely deals with self-awareness too. You must understand that the priority is your academics. If you fail at school, your extracurricular activities may not save you. If you think you need more time to focus on your academics, by all means do so.
IPSF-AfRO: What is success to you?
Pharm Ekpenyong: I think success is achieving your set goals. It doesn't have to be too big. If you are able to achieve a goal that speaks to you, that's success.
IPSF-AfRO: What's your future career aspiration?
Pharm Ekpenyong: My career aspiration is to be a renowned global health practitioner. I want to give my all to global health. I want to inspire young people while doing so.
IPSF-AfRO: Which persons (within and beyond pharmacy) challenge you to be your best self?
Pharm Ekpenyong: There are a lot of individuals. Someone who has challenged me to be the best version of myself is Professor Don Eliseo Lucero-Prisno III who I work directly under in GHF. He is my direct mentor and also the founder of GHF. Don is an amazing human being. He is able to combine professional aspirations with excellent human relations. That's what stands out for me. That's what I want to really learn. He is passionate about solving human challenges through global health. He works hard to rank among the upper echelon of his profession. He lectures at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the University of the Phillipines while simultaneously serving as the Country director of Access Health International in the Philippines and the CEO of Global Health Focus. Apart from his professional aspirations, he is human-centred. He genuinely cares for humans and goes out of his way, through recommendations, mentorship, provision of finances etc, to make people under him succeed. He strives to be the best in his profession. He makes me want to be a better version of myself.
IPSF-AfRO: What's the place of mentorship for a young professional?
Pharm Ekpenyong: Mentorship is key. I think it's very important that everyone gets a mentor. It's an opportunity to stand on the shoulders of giants. My journey in global health wouldn't have been smooth without Prof Don as a mentor. Through him, I have been able to stand on the shoulders of giants and fast-tracked my progress in global health. The process of identifying a mentor may be different for different people, but the role of mentorship in a young professional's life is crucial for career growth. If you are unable to get a mentor, you can follow people from afar and learn from them. I follow closely Strive Masiyiwa, the founder and executive chairman of Econet Global. His work, work ethics and passion for Africa inspires me. I follow his work closely. Mentorship is important. When people can't get mentors, they should get models.
IPSF-AfRO: On a lighter note, when you are not writing a research paper, volunteering, studying or doing any serious work, how do you spend your time?
Pharm Ekpenyong: I love to watch documentaries, travel documentaries, just to know more about countries. I love to travel. I really want to visit all the countries in the world. Now that I am unable to do so, I like to watch anything that would take me round the world, basically movies and travel documentaries. I'm also learning to play the guitar and I love to sing. (At least, I sing to myself 😂)
IPSF-AfRO: As a Nigerian, what's the best part of being a Nigerian, for you?
Pharm Ekpenyong: The best part of being a Nigerian, for me, is contributing my part to the development of my country, building on the foundation laid by our heroes past. My best part of being Nigerian is when I give myself in service to better the country e.g through volunteering, mentorship and my profession. Whenever I am found giving to my country, it makes me happy to be Nigerian. Nigeria is blessed with so many talents, from law to engineering, to economics, medicine and beyond. People know Nigerians as pacesetters. When foreigners meet us for the first time and find that we are Nigerians, they go: Wow! I mean, in spite of the negative perspective that being Nigerian brings to mind (money laundering, fraud etc), they like to associate with us because they know we are smart.
IPSF-AfRO: Which places are your must-visit destinations for a vacation?
Pharm Ekpenyong: Three places I think people should get on their bucket list: Obudu Cattle Ranch in Nigeria, the Pyramids in Egypt and the Eiffel Tower in France. There are lots of places, but I think these three should be a must-visit.
IPSF-AfRO: For some people, a good life is a plate of pounded yam with egusi soup anytime they want. For some, it's being around their loved ones regularly. What's a good life for you, at an atomic level?
Pharm Ekpenyong: This is pretty difficult to say, 😃 because sometimes I don't even take note of it. I think that a good life for me is when I see someone else smile, when I inspire people, when I make others happy. At such times, I feel happy. It need not be serious. It could be a conversation, what we see or do together etc. If that won't fly, then maybe good food. I'm not a foodie but I love good food, who doesn’t? 😃😃
IPSF-AfRO: What does your name mean, in English? 😊
Pharm Ekpenyong: In English, it means 'Who wins?'. Aniekanabasi, the longer version, means 'Who wins God?'.
IPSF-AfRO: Any final words for IPSFers?
Pharm Ekpenyong: Take your journey in IPSF seriously, build skills, develop valuable relationships and see how IPSF can help shape your career while also giving back to IPSF. Let it be a mutually beneficial relationship.
IPSF-AfRO: Thank you so much, Pharm Aniekan Ekpenyong. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. Very insightful! 😊
Pharm Ekpenyong: Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity.
This interview was conducted by Pharm Taiwo Olawehinmi, on the auspices of IPSF-AfRO Media & Publications Subcommittee. We hope you were inspired by Pharm Ekpenyong's story. Let's continue to stand as beacons of light in the pharmacy profession and beyond. Viva la pharmacie!