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Apr 27, 2023   |   Blog Post

A Journey for Self-Reliance: The Calling of a Pharmacist

By Raisa Santos

Associate, Communications

Prior to finding his calling as a pharmacist, Lloyd Matowe wanted to become a doctor. He had the privilege of enrolling at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare for its medical program, but after several courses realized that being a doctor was not something he wanted to pursue.

One of his lecturers had suggested that instead he could be a pharmacist. This ended up being his calling. “Pharmacy was a pure accident and since then I loved pharmacy and never looked back,” said Lloyd, reflecting on his time in school.

Lloyd now has over twenty years of experience as a pharmacist and in working to strengthen pharmaceutical supply chains across Africa, having started schools of pharmacy in both Kuwait and Zambia. He is also the CEO of Pharmaceutical Systems Africa.

Seeking Answers 

Lloyd realized that issues in public health supply chains in Africa needed to be amplified and transformed when he first joined Management Sciences for Health (MSH) in 2005. He worked on several case studies across Africa for MSH and realized that supply chain challenges were pervasive throughout the continent, not just in low income countries such as Malawi and Sierra Leone, but also in middle income countries like South Africa.

Lloyd began to seek answers to the issues surrounding public health supply chains in Africa – how could he carry out his role as a pharmacist if wasn’t also focused on getting products to people?

“Ultimately what matters is do the people get the product? Does the product get to the last mile? And is it available in inadequate amounts? We forget when we focus on wanting to do clinical practice, but clinical practice with pharmacists and doctors when there’s no product doesn’t make any sense. It’s oxymoronic,” said Lloyd, regarding his experience in MSH.

You go into the hospital, you’re well trained. You read all the books of pharmacy. You’ve read all the books on how to manage hypertension. You’ve read all the books on how to manage migraines. And then on the shelves, there’s no product. It makes no sense, and unfortunately that’s what we find again and again across Africa.

You find systems where there’s $10 million worth of medicine that expires. That’s not a resource issue, it’s a management issue… What should we focus on – managing a headache or management of the product?”

In fact, the answer was balancing the management of both, and so Lloyd began to seek solutions towards achieving this balance.

A Holistic Approach

With his breadth of experience in the public health supply chain, Lloyd calls for a holistic approach that recognizes supply chain as a profession in its own right.

“True professionalization is when we begin to realize that supply chain is not pharmacy and pharmacy is not supply chain. Having said that, there is no reason why the pharmacist can’t be trained to do the core functions of the supply chain.”

This should come in the form of a ‘middle ground’ in training pharmacists in the supply chain. “Supply chain should be provided in pharmacy schools in a holistic manner, not just supply chain in its entirety, but we have supply chain for two years, three years, continuously like we do with clinical practice…It’s a continuation of skills that they ultimately use once they are out in practice.”

Building Self-Reliance Back Home  

After many years of working at the Global Fund, Lloyd was ready to return home.

“I was there in the trenches working with some of [these interventions to build capacity]. And I said to myself, ‘When do we begin to talk of self-reliance?’ When do we begin to say, ‘Look, you’ve been teaching us to fish and we are grateful, but at one point, we have to start fishing for ourselves’?” Lloyd said, on his work with the Global Fund.

He then decided to use his expertise to found Pharmaceutical Systems Africa in an effort towards building public health supply chain capacity in Africa.

Lloyd wanted to catalyze change towards self-reliance from within, and began to work with people from all parts of Africa through his work with Pharmaceutical Systems Africa.

“What’s my best, my proudest moment as a professional? It’s the day I said, ‘I absolutely enjoy living in Washington. I enjoy living in London. I enjoy living in Geneva.’ But there is nothing better than going home and giving back to where it all started. And home is not where I was born. Home is Africa, whether I’m in Monrovia or Nairobi or Addis Ababa, I feel as homely as I am when I’m in Harare or in Masaka.

The COVID pandemic taught us, brutally, that [self-reliance in Africa] is long overdue…So if we are able to stand on our feet from both manufacturing standpoint, as well as from a capacity and resilience perspective, in terms of pandemics, then everybody is safer. So a safer, resilient Africa is a safer Europe and a safer North America.”

Self-reliance in a New Generation

Regarding what he wanted to leave as his legacy in the world of supply chain professionalization before he retired, Lloyd spoke of wanting more advocates in the space.

“What I really hope to see is more young people, not just Africans. More advocates for supply chain access who can better what a few of us have done. If we realize that we can train people, if we can recruit people to do something that is rewarding, that compensates their effort and creates a better Africa, then I’ll go one day to my grave with a smile on my face.”

Hear more from Lloyd on our Products to People Podcast, Episode 3: Supplies Beyond the Health Facility. Listen now and subscribe to our podcast.  

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