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Favoured During a Pandemic – The World’s Youngest Commercial Pilot Gets Hired

My mum cried when I got the phone call, and I was lost for words, I had no idea what to say.

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Seth VanBeek, known as Seth The Pilot. Image Source: News247

Born in the UK, Seth VanBeek did his primary and high school education in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. From a very young age, his mum always took him and his sister on holidays around the world, and that is when he discovered his love for flying. The former Christian Brothers College (CBC) student has since moved back to London with his family, and he took some time to tell us about how God has favoured him during a pandemic.

Career Guidance is something a lot of kids in Zimbabwe and Africa do not always receive. What inspired your decision to become a pilot and what steps did you take to find out more about that career path? 

Making the decision to become a pilot was not difficult at all. I always knew from a very young age that I wanted to become a pilot, and I knew that I could start at 17 years of age.

The only difficult part on making that decision was the funding part, because flight school is very expensive, and my flight school of choice actually turned out to be more expensive than what my mum and I had budgeted. Thank God for my mum, because when I qualified to get into flight school, she sold our house in London to pay the £85,000 tuition fees for me.

I searched on the internet a lot to find out about flight schools and courses offered, but sometimes you will only be shown the nice side of things on the internet; for example, some flight schools will only show you their nicest aircraft online, yet when you get there you may find that the rest of their fleet is old and therefore not safe. So my mum and I travelled to a few flight schools to see for ourselves, and that way, we were able to choose the best school with the best facilities.

“… the morning just before the call came in, I had actually received a rejection email and I had just said to myself, “Well, it is what it is.”

(Image: Seth VanBeek / SWNS)

How did you do in your O’ Levels, and what grades did you need to gain entry into flight school?

In high school I actually didn’t put quite a lot of effort. I barely studied for my O’ Level exams, and it was just grace that I came out with 3 As, 5 Bs and 1 C. I didn’t even focus on science subjects, I just did general subjects like Physical Science, Maths, Geography, English, etc., of which for flight school I only needed 5 O’ Level passes, with a C or better in English, Maths and Science to qualify.

You had the choice of attending A’ Level first or going to flight school straight after your O’ Levels. Many children are told to complete high school first and get a degree, before they can be allowed by their parents to even think of going to flight school. How did you reach your final decision of going to flight school straight after your O’ Levels, and why was it so important for you to do that?

I spoke to my geography teacher one day and told him my options of either going to A’ Level, or going to flight school and breaking the record of becoming the world’s youngest commercial pilot, and he said to me, “Seth, the world is developing. If you’re able to start without A’ Levels, then there’s no point in wasting 2 years of your life, because by the time your friends finish their A’ Level exams, you would’ve already qualified as a pilot.”

How easy or difficult were the flight school entrance exams? 

When you get to flight school, you do an entry exam which includes Mental Physics and Maths, but I didn’t find it very difficult because it was all O’ Level stuff. It only starts to get very difficult when you get to the part where you have to do aviation related calculations, but again those are all based on O’ Level Maths principles, so ultimately it wasn’t very difficult for me.

With the support of your mum who sold her house in the UK to pay for flight school tuition, you managed to enrol at Egnatia Aviation Training College in Greece. It must have been very tough being so far away from home at only 16. How was your initial experience at the school and what coping mechanisms did you use to make the experience more enjoyable? 

I had never really been away from my family, and here I was at 17, moving to a whole different country by myself. I had to mature pretty quickly. The first few days were very difficult, I was very homesick and I missed my family a lot. My housemate did not help the situation because he was not friendly at all, and even quite rude. I managed to get a new housemate, but he also turned out to be quite untidy and not very clean.

All of this added to my frustration at the start of my flight school journey, and we were in a very small Greek town where people didn’t speak English; so I had to find ways to adapt very quickly. In about two weeks, I was already feeling accustomed to the place. I still missed home a lot, but I took comfort in knowing that the course was very short and in 18 months I would be done. It helped that my mum visited about 3 or 4 times when I was there, and I was able to visit home 2 or 3 times, but in my final year, things got so hectic that I was not able to visit home at all. I was now used to my new normal though, so I persevered. Looking back, those days shaped my character a lot.

Seth Van Beek with his mum Frances (right) and his sister Hannah (left) at Egnatia Aviation Training College

Whilst at flight school, besides the actual flying practice and flight simulations, what subjects did you focus on?

I didn’t really major on any subjects. We did a total of 14 subjects which included Flight Planning, Mateorology, Radio Navigation, and General Navigation, just to name a few, and I must say that they were very, very challenging subjects.

I also realised that for me personally, flight school was not very difficult, but it was just about the work and effort which I put in. Even getting to know all the buttons in an aircraft didn’t prove as difficult as it looks, because all the buttons are labelled, and after you’ve been practising for a while, you end up knowing where everything is – though of course during a flight you cannot press a button without double-checking what it is for, for safety reasons.

I know you are extremely passionate about flying, but a lot of people fear flying. What gives you the courage to brave the skies?

I actually feel safest when I’m in the air than when I’m driving. Even if you look at the ratio of air crashes to car crashes, it’s 1:10million, and if you count the number of major air crashes that kill a lot of people in a year, they’re very few compared to road accidents. Aircraft have something called Redundancy, so almost everything is duplicated. So for example, if one engine fails, you can just switch to the next one, and you will always get a warning when something is not functioning properly.

“I stayed persistent at all times, constantly sending emails, contacting Directors of companies via LinkedIn, and making phone calls to companies.”

(Image: Seth VanBeek / SWNS)

You went on to graduate top of your class, and your instructors actually labelled you as ‘one of the best students they had ever had’, both academically and socially. What do you attribute your success to? 

My mum had made such a huge financial investment in me such that when I got there, I knew that I had to give it my all, and thank God I passed all my exams and tests first time round, and I actually graduated top of my class with an average of over 90%. One of the instructors who was in charge of the Hellenic Airforce actually told me that in all his time in his career he had seen very few pilots who were quite like me in terms of working hard, following instructions, and being well-mannered in general.

(Image: Seth VanBeek / SWNS)

Just after you graduated, the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and as you were looking for a job at an airline, tens of thousands of pilots around the UK and in the whole world actually lost their jobs. What gave you the strength and confidence to carry on looking for a job, despite these unpleasant statistics? 

Though it was very challenging, I never doubted that I would get a job sooner or later. What made me feel a bit better was knowing that there were tens of thousands of pilots in the same boat as me. I kept on praying and believing that God would make a way for me, and now during the second lockdown which is even worse than the first one, God opened a door for me.

Besides sending out your CV over a thousand times in the last year or so, what else did you do to try and secure a job?

I stayed persistent at all times, constantly sending emails, contacting Directors of companies via LinkedIn, and making phone calls to companies. I figured that everybody would be sending out emails and cover letters, applying for the same jobs I was, so I figured that it would be better if I made phone calls, because at least that way they could put a voice to the name, and that voice would stick with them and make a difference, compared to the other applications. I consistently called my new boss every 2 or 3 weeks, just checking if he now had an opening.

The day he called me to offer me the position, he actually told me that they had received hundreds of CVs, but I was the one person who came to their mind first because I was constantly in contact. He actually joked with me saying, “I gave you the job just so you could stop pestering me.” – laughs.

However, even when you do make that phone call, it’s about how you conduct yourself on the phone; humility, confidence in your skills and in yourself, and your faith, will go a long way. What companies want to see at the moment is who is most passionate, and who will go above and beyond to get that job. So I just kept on telling myself that I had nothing to lose by calling – the worst they could do was just say no, then I’d just move on to the next company. I had more to gain by putting myself out there every single day. I was actually planning to go to companies after the lockdown and look for a job in person. Eventually, at 19 years old, I have landed my very first job through persistence and consistency.

During that time, you also started an online programme to help young kids who would also like to become pilots with some valuable information. Can you tell us a little more about that? 

Due to the difficulties that I had faced while trying to find out more about becoming a pilot and choosing a flight school, I decided to make the process easier for other young people by developing specialist aviation packages focusing on “How To Become A Pilot”. The programme has 3 sections which are, ‘Find A Flight School’, ‘Airline Pilot Training’ and ‘Nutrition and Lifestyle’, and they are based on my own experiences of my whole journey at flight school.

(Image: Seth VanBeek / SWNS)

Finally a few weeks ago, your prayers were answered, and you got a job working for a private jet charter company. How did you feel when that call came in, and how does it feel to know that all your hard work at flight school is finally going to pay off? 

I’m very excited now because I’ve actually just been on training in Austria, and when I start work I’ll be flying all over Europe. I’m also truly blessed because the salary is really, really great, and compared to commercial airlines which have really hectic schedules, I will get a lot more time to spend with my family. My mum cried when I got the phone call, and I was lost for words, I had no idea what to say. I’m so thrilled that God showed himself strong for me, a young boy from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, when there were so many pilots who are way more qualified and wouldn’t even need training like I do.

There are currently 90,000 unemployed pilots because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and from all those, I was chosen for this amazing job. After sending my CV nearly a thousand times and getting so accustomed to receiving rejection emails, it still hasn’t sunk in that I finally have a job. In fact, the morning just before the call came in, I had actually received a rejection email and I had just said to myself, “Well, it is what it is.” To think that my new company actually chartered a whole private jet just to pick me up from London and take me to Austria for training, during a time of strict travel restrictions, it’s all so mind-blowing. It’s a testimony for me, because everything happened in God’s time, and this is what God means when He says “I will do exceedingly and abundantly above all you ask.” It will be such an honour to buy my mum another house in the next year or so.

What are your goals for the next three to five years, and do you see yourself breaking any more records in the aviation industry? 

I have quite a few goals for the next 3-5 years, one of them being that I want to break the record of becoming the youngest Captain, which currently sits at 26 years old. I also have a vision and a plan to build a flight school in Zimbabwe for the underprivileged with a scholarship programme. I also want to start an airline in Zimbabwe which allows African pilots with low hours to build up their hours.

What are your parting words to young Africans out there who also dream of becoming pilots one day?  

Don’t let anyone deter you from achieving your goals. If it’s your dream to become a pilot, stick with it and run with it. Everybody has different paths; your path may be that you have to go through another career in order to save up money to go to flight school, but aviation is more than just a career – it’s a passion; and if you have the passion, you must know that you’re going to achieve your goals by working hard and pushing through all the barriers to get there. When you finally do get there, the victory will only be that much sweeter.

Connect with Seth:

Website: www.seththepilot.co.uk

Facebook: Seth vanBeek

Instagram: @seth_thepilot

LinkedIn: Seth Vanbeek

Interviewed by Gugu Mpofu

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Careers

Forbin Audrey Nene: @AsanteAfrikaMag #EverydaySheroes

I was raised by a single mother who made womanhood and motherhood look effortless and stress-free.

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Image: Forbin Audrey Nene

Celebrating Women’s History Month 2021

Meet Forbin Audrey Nene, a pristine example of versatility. A singer, songwriter and lover of all things artsy, who still finds the time somewhere in there to pursue a BSc. in Chemical Engineering at the Catholic University Institute of Buea. She takes the effect her music has on her listeners seriously, stating that she aims to, “provide a safe haven for her listeners”.

What is the hardest thing about being a woman?

I was raised by a single mother who made womanhood and motherhood look effortless and stress-free. Now that I am older and a bit wiser, I am starting to understand how much she must have had to deal with as she kept her head above rocky waters and raised me (Shout out to you mama, you’re amazing!).

Aside from having to survive a misogynistic and extremely sexist society where on most days total strangers, for some odd reason, feel entitled to your time and energy, I would say our own anatomy plays a big role in how uncomfortable being a woman can be. There is the effect of hormonal fluctuations due to our monthly cycles, and our bodies constantly evolving as we age and experience different things. Sometimes it feels like fighting the world while having to fight yourself as well. Women are literally superhumans just by existing.

“Women are strong, beautiful, life-giving, powerful, and inspirational beings. It is such a beautiful time to be alive as a young African woman.”

What aspect of being a woman did you think was important when you were younger, only to disregard now?

I didn’t give much thought to becoming a woman when I was younger. I just knew I would grow up eventually, have boobs and wear makeup and fancy grown women clothes like I saw my aunties do. I soon realized that there was a lot more to becoming a woman than that. There were period cramps, stereotypes, childbirth, catcalls, harassment, relationships, setting boundaries, braving odds etc.

I think womanhood caught me off guard, and in fact, still does so every other day. I actually think it catches most women off guard. It’s a rough transition for some more than others, where one minute you’re everybody’s sweet little girl, and the next minute you’re just not anymore. You are grown up, setting goals for yourself, and getting your life together while working to create a pleasant enough present and future for yourself.

Image: Forbin Audrey Nene

What advice do you wish was given to you earlier?

• “Say what you mean and mean what you say” There’s this misconception that a woman’s “no” really means “yes” or “ask louder” or “try harder”. I don’t agree with this narrative, and so I try to live up to my word as much as I can, and speak only when necessary. It’s a thing of self-respect and integrity for me.

• “Your life, body, and mind are yours. Don’t let anybody take them away from you” I wish I understood early enough the importance of setting boundaries and protecting my sanity jealously.

• “People come and go, and that is fine”. Over the years I have found myself holding on to situations, relationships and friendships that didn’t serve my greater good, till I learnt that it’s ok to move on.

According to Forbin, women are “strong, beautiful, life-giving, powerful, and inspirational beings. It is such a beautiful time to be alive as a young African woman.” And I couldn’t agree with her more.

Interviewed by Hazel Lifa

hazel@asanteafrika.net

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Dr. Ismail Badjie (Pharm.D) On His Career Choices, & The Birth of InnovaRx Global Health In The Gambia

The future is technology and health simply will not exist in the now and the future without it.

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Dr. Ismail D. Badjie, Pharm.D

After working in the United States for a number of years and realising the difference that technology brought to the healthcare sector, Dr. Ismail Badjie was keen to take the knowledge he had acquired back to his home country. Having seen the dire necessity for innovative approaches to the delivery of healthcare in The Gambia, it soon became a dream of his to start a company which would serve as a bridge between modern healthcare solutions and affordable access locally, enabling wide-spread access to quality and affordable care to all Gambians and subsequently, to the surrounding West African Nations.

Read on to find out how the 35 year old Gambian national was able to make his dream a reality.

After graduating high school in The Gambia, you went on to do your undergraduate degree in Chemistry in the United States in Tennessee. Why did you choose to do chemistry, and what did you major in? Did you already know that you wanted to work in pharmaceuticals? What career options did you have in mind at the time?

Funny thing is, I left for Tennessee State University to study Civil Engineering, but changed my major two weeks into university. Science and Chemistry in particular always came easy to me in High School, and I had a healthy amount of curiosity in healthcare which led me in that direction. I felt Chemistry with a minor in biology was a great foundation degree for a profession in medicine, dentistry, pharmacy or science research.

“Similar to many professional schools in the medical field, the Doctor of Pharmacy program is a 4-year program I transitioned into immediately after the completion of my Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry.”

I got exposed to the Doctor of Pharmacy program (PharmD) which immediately aligned with my desire to choose a career in a field with tremendous potential for impact, not only in the United States but also in Africa. The over-commercialization of pharmaceutical products in Africa has removed the emphasis on the clinical aspect of the field designed to be gatekeepers for the safe administration of medications to achieve positive health outcomes (which I was passionate about).

After graduating with your first degree, did you do a Master’s degree before going on to your Ph.D.?

Similar to many professional schools in the medical field, the Doctor of Pharmacy program is a 4-year program I transitioned into immediately after the completion of my Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry.

You then went on to do a Doctorate Degree in Pharmacy in Indiana, before going on to practice as a pharmacist in the US. Can you tell us briefly (in layman’s terms) what your Ph.D. work focused on?

Attending a Top ten PharmD program in the U.S at Purdue University (Indiana) truly enriched my career development and prepared me for a lifelong commitment to improving the lives of individuals. The Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) is a four-year professional degree. The classroom, lab, and experiential requirements provide students with the educational background to enter any field of pharmacy practice such as community pharmacy, academia, industry & manufacturing, nuclear pharmacy, hospital pharmacy and more specialized clinical pharmacy .

My four-year training included nuclear pharmacy training and elective specialization in organizational leadership and supervision. We leave the program with comprehensive knowledge on the origins and makeup of medication including the research on safety and efficacy that goes into the manufacturing and approval process to a more high-level clinical application and distribution of medication to elicit positive health outcomes. The full spectrum of skills gained allows PharmDs to be integral parts to a variety of industries.

Image: Dr. Ismail Badjie

What is the difference between someone who does an undergraduate degree in pharmacy and goes straight to practice, and someone in your position? What professional advantages do you have over that person?

The U.S no longer offers any undergraduate degree in Pharmacy. All programs now are designed as a Doctor of Pharmacy Degree that requires a 6 to 4 year commitment. This is something that separates the profession’s integration into the health ecosystem compared to other parts of the world.

One of the major professional advantages in a PharmD program is the focus on clinical expertise across diverse fields which counters the more traditional narrative of only being labeled as “dispenser”, “chemist” or “druggist”. I spent my entire final year of the PharmD program on clinical rotations working in the field across various specialties such as Infection Disease, Ambulatory Care, Community Practice, Pharmacy Compounding, medication safety, and hospital inpatient clinical care just to name a few.

Can you tell us about the birth of Innovarx Global Health (IGH); what inspired you to start such a company, and what products and services does InnovaRx provide?

Innovarx Global Health was formed to level the playing field in access to quality healthcare services in Africa. Being a Healthcare professional practicing in the United States gave me firsthand knowledge on how technology was transforming healthcare delivery, and how huge the disparity was between the west and the African continent.

Image: InnovaRx Logo

My Grandmother died when she was 56 years old from complications of diabetes and hypertension, which robbed us (her grandkids) of so many memories and moments of joy. I truly believe her living in the Gambia with poor levels of access to quality healthcare should not have determined a lower life expectancy. That wasn’t only her reality but that of many of our loved ones on the continent who for decades, have faced significant challenges while simply seeking a better quality of life. We therefore built the company to provide basic preventative healthcare and disease stage management services while leveraging technology in point-of-care testing diagnostics, electronic health record system, and prescription medication processing to deliver customized care in the most convenient and affordable way.

Our flagship delivery service Wellness on Wheels (W.O.W) was designed as a logistics tool that removed barriers of transportation and from inception, allowed the company to deliver products and services bedside to people’s homes all over the country. I believe IGH has revolutionized the way people consume healthcare, where a patient who lives in the furthest part of the country (6 hours away) can have a loved one living abroad sponsor their care, and have the same medications in circulation in the U.S delivered at their doorstep. Our e-commerce platform has also allowed for over-the-counter medications, health and wellness products such as vitamins and supplements to be accessible to customers all over the world for purchase and delivery as early as a 60 mins turn around in most parts of Banjul.

Image: Wellness on Wheels

You mentioned that while planning on the inception of the company, besides the experience gained from your own workplace, you also travelled around the world to see how different companies carried out the services that you wanted to provide. Which countries did you travel to, and what stood out for you, which you really wanted to emulate back home in The Gambia?

I realized early that doing market research only in The Gambia was inadequate to solidify an integrated matrix of healthcare solutions, so we set out to key countries such as India, Germany and UAE. India gave us valuable insights into understanding the generic drug global supply chain market and how much revenue the country was generating through medical tourism from Africa. Over a billion dollars leaves the continent every year because of medical tourism, which stems from a pervasive lack of trust in our health systems.

The amount of Indian medical professionals trained at the best universities who returned home to provide specialty care to their citizens also inspired me. UAE was a perfect example of a country that embraced innovation and technology to propel all sectors, especially healthcare. The ingenuity and value creation in the healthcare sector is something I definitely felt the continent was also fertile grounds for. From the offset, we were intentional about creating a global company with the best ideas, and chose Africa as our first market instead of creating another “Less than” or “African Version” of a healthcare company.

You started doing research for launching the company in 2015, but only started operating in The Gambia in 2019. Besides doing research, what other facets of the business were you working on and preparing for during those years?

Unfortunately, bureaucracy can always impede any process in Africa that requires licenses and necessary registrations to get up and running. The Company was operating as a consulting company while attacking the daunting task of raising capital to start a business in Africa. The small market size of the Gambia as a pilot country made seeking investment even more challenging, especially for a business model that was the first of its kind. Human capacity is also another obstacle that adds to the process. Finding the right talent to understand and execute the mission and vision of a company in Africa requires a level of patience and constant allocation of resources to train and recruit that we still go through.

How did it feel to finally see your dream of setting up a tech-based healthcare solutions company in West Africa come to life in 2019?

It’s truly something magical anytime you see ideas that were simply sticky notes in my apartment manifest into a fully functioning entity now serving thousands of people. The magic however is ever so fleeting, as the waves of interchanging emotions instill a constant measure of cautious optimism required to always maintain faith while having the discipline to confront our current reality at any point. Africa is not short of great ideas, the greatest challenge in creating a successful business always lies in the consistent execution of said ideas.

What challenges did you face whilst preparing to launch, and how did you overcome them?

I think a lot of the challenges faced pre-launch had mainly to do with raising capital and working through the bureaucratic process of getting legally registered. The former (Fundraising) is a never-ending process we are still working on. Remaining committed to our “WHY” and exercising patience through building relationships always helps navigate the ecosystem. Establishing the right local partnerships also help in the general process of planting some roots in the ground .

“The market will always follow where the best value is created and executed consistently.”

Most of the products sold at your pharmacy division are sourced in the United States. Do you face any obstacles in getting them to the Gambia, such as maybe high import duty?

Most of the obstacles result from high logistics costs, especially when using air freight options. The wave of COVID in 2020 when the country was shut down was especially a trying time for the company, having a nation of people depending on the company to source products while facing exorbitant shipping costs. The Government of the Gambia does provide some tax holidays which ease the burden on otherwise high import duties. Most of the costs arise from the product registration process mandated by the Nation’s Medicines Control Agency.

You stated that Sub-Saharan Africa has a pandemic of counterfeit medication which is a billion-dollar industry, and in West Africa, almost 20-30% of the medication is counterfeit. As a pharmaceuticals provider, how do you avoid sourcing counterfeit medication?

Our decision to source medications only from the U.S is mainly based on the safety net of minimum quality standards required by the FDA. I think the African market is yet to make demands for only medications with safety profiles fit for sale in western markets, a non-negotiable. With our quality control infrastructures not readily available, the U.S sourcing allows for a level of assurance being infused into all our products. I think the continent is making strides in building our manufacturing capacity which will change the dynamics of our sourcing in the near future. From a pharmacist’s perspective, we just need to ensure every product dispensed to African citizens would always be safe, effective and with equal clinical potency to deliver positive health outcomes.

Your main clients are the diasporans who buy medication and healthcare supplies online from you for their family members back home in The Gambia. What marketing mediums do you use to reach your target market?

Social Media has truly been a game-changer for us in terms of reaching our target customers who live abroad but sponsor their loved ones’ health care in the Gambia. The country saw over $500 Million in remittances in 2020 alone which truly creates a new definition of market size not limited to the feeble spending power in the country. Our active engagement with Gambians in the diaspora from day one has allowed them to align with our mission of providing the peace of mind they desperately seek when it comes to the health and wellbeing of loved ones. The novelty of our services also gives us the confidence that “Word of Mouth” marketing will always be the greatest avenue to slow and organic growth, especially in our infancy as a company.

As a tech-based company, how do you overcome ‘typically African’ problems such as inconsistent power supply and bad network connections?

Well from a balance sheet standpoint it just adds to the cost of doing business. Getting back-up systems for electricity and the internet is unavoidable, but we are much closer to cheaper and more stable systems today than we were decades ago. It just creates a scenario where your product may be years ahead of the market, but also goes back to building companies despite the challenges and not attenuating your idea because of the “Typical African” problems. The future is technology and health simply will not exist in the now and the future without it.

As the Gambia is a very small country, you are actually able to service and deliver products to your clients across the whole country from just your one branch, making you a leader in that category. How have your competitors reacted?

Good ideas that enter any market simply create tension. Every player in the market will have to make a decision whether to adapt or die. We tend not to focus on the reaction of competitors because our business model differs greatly from the status quo. Nonetheless, we welcome enhancements and innovations of their own, which will also add tremendous value and the customers will always benefit. It does not have to be only one solution. The market will always follow where the best value is created and executed consistently.

Has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your ability to import healthcare supplies from the United States?

I would like to believe the worst is behind us now, but absolutely. We went through a period where certain items like PPE, hand sanitizer, certain medications etc. were scarce, but we adapted accordingly. The company played a pivotal role in the country manufacturing hand sanitizers in-house, which allowed for great collaborations with the Ministry of Health and the Pharmacy Council of The Gambia. We have a great relationship with distributors free of middlemen, which always allows us to source products consistently.

You have in-house doctors that do consultations with patients, and you also do tele-medicine where patients can consult virtually with your team of specialist doctors who are abroad. How has this service been received by the locals? Are they embracing technology and jumping on board?

I think with most new technology you always have your early adopters that embrace the technology and receive it through the lens of the convenience it provides. The Telemedicine services was a timely intervention during the COVID peak which solidified its application as a healthcare solution of the future. So we still have some growth opportunities in adoption that will expand, especially with the key partnerships we have with specialty doctors all over the world.

You stated a very sad fact, that there are about 9000 Gambians to one doctor. Why do you think this is so, and is the government doing anything to curb the disparity?

A couple of factors come into play when analyzing the low physician density. Healthcare professionals struggle with some of the lowest wages in the region that provide little incentive to turn down opportunities to practice medicine in more advanced countries for more pay. The first intervention should focus on increasing doctor salaries and making a commitment to their continuous development.

I think the Government has made massive strides in sustaining a pipeline with the Nation’s Medical School, but with the number of years it takes to complete training and further specialization, only a seismic shift in reverse migration can fill the gap. This, however, necessitates technology as the only viable option short term of closing the gap. Embracing telehealth service can have an immediate and exponential impact especially in a country that does lack doctors but have an abundance of qualified nurses that are the bedrock of most health systems in the country.

You are already doing an amazing job providing easy access to affordable healthcare, but are you doing anything as Innovarx Global to give back to the community, especially the youth?

Incorporating a Corporate Social Responsibility was of great importance to the company from day one. We saw the high prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCD) such as diabetes and hypertension, and sought out to help democratize access to preventative service in that area by launching our “What’s your number?” Health campaign. The WYN campaign leverages the company’s wellness on wheels to find communities in need and offer free health screening for the two most prevalent NCDs.

Image: InnovaRx Health Specialist with a patient

To date, the company has screened close to two thousand Gambians at no cost and in some cases in remote areas of the country several kilometers away from rural health centers. I think our greatest contribution to the youth has been in the talent development and hiring of young people at all levels of the organization. This has allowed our youthful exuberance to influence advocacy on subject matters like mental health and sexual and reproductive health, which are often highly stigmatized in African Societies.

Lastly, what words of advice would you give to a young African who would one day like to be as successful as you are in the pharmaceuticals industry?

Success is subjective and a never ending journey, so I would advise them to not ascribe a final destination to the perceived notion of reaching a peak. I believe I was fortunate to have a level of exposure, education, skills, and opportunities that allowed me to will the company into existence with a group of like-minded individuals.

The profession of Pharmacy is extremely diverse and is designed to work in harmony with all other healthcare fields. Young Africans (women especially) should follow their passion in the healthcare space and take advantage of all opportunities of apprenticeship and structured goal mapping along the way. Patience is a virtue and must be applied to every aspiration of creating value in any given ecosystem. Make a commitment to courage, accountability and continuous growth because we live in a very competitive world and one’s evolution should never come to a halt. Lastly, internalize the mere fact that yes, we (Africans) deserve better, but we have to create it by being the very change we seek.

Connect with Dr. Ismail through his Instagram @drismailbadjie, or visit his website, https://www.innovarxglobal.com/.

Interviewed by Gugu Mpofu

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Wits Protest: Black Leaders and Progress Don’t Go Hand In Hand

The word civilian provides room for law enforcement to set a narrative in the media of students as hooligans with no specific reason for protesting but causing mayhem. Students are civilians too.

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Image: Wits Protest. Image Source - East Coast Radio

Opinion Piece by Rorisang Moyo

In a shameful state of events, the South African Police Service (SAPS) once again shows a level of incompetence documented in its historical failure to control protest crowds. An innocent civilian was shot dead during student protests at Wits University in South Africa on Wednesday, March 10th. The economically disadvantaged students took to the streets to beg the tertiary institution for financial inclusion.

The institution claims that it is trying to prevent a situation where students’ historical debt would lead to the university being unable to financially sustain itself. The university has made R100-million available for financial aid and bursaries, as well as R20-million for students who are facing financial hardships in the face of being owed R1-billion. 8000 students have been financially excluded, this number is telling of the large gap between some (many black) students and education, that still exists not only in South Africa, but in Africa as a whole.

“We have been reminded once again that black lives are disposable and cheap. Black stories are not seen as important enough to warrant a dignified response.”

At this point, the word ‘civilian’, used to describe the passerby who was shot dead during the protest, is calculated wordplay weaponised against the protesting students. It implies that in the vicinity of this one civilian (who has now been identified as 35 year old Mthokozisi Ntumba, who actually happened to be a Master’s graduate and a father), there exist terrorists, non-innocent humans who were protesting. It provides room for law enforcement to set a narrative in the media of students as hooligans with no specific reason for protesting but causing mayhem. Students are civilians too!

We have been reminded once again that black lives are disposable and cheap. Black stories are not seen as important enough to warrant a dignified response. The students were not even asking for historical debt to be cleared, but they were begging to be allowed to register, begging for a foot in the door. Someone tweeted that “Always remember to put white students at the front on a march. Cops shoot at our kids never. We all know it’s a fact. #Witsasinamali” Scandalous but true.” That is how law enforcement works in South Africa, where white people are gently handheld through civil disobedience.

The fight for financial inclusion is not new; since 1994 students have been begging state actors to listen to their plight. It should be concerning that students are out protesting about bread and butter issues. This speaks to their struggle to afford to live on a daily basis.

We have heard this story before, where struggling students begging for access are constantly treated as combatants. When they are not treated as combatants, they have to go through the dehumanising and humiliating process of proving that they are poor enough for funding.

Actually, the fact that every year I must prove to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) that I’m still poor is offensive. #FeesMustFall, too rich for NSFAS, too poor for fees, and too black for a bank loan. Y’all don’t see the bigger picture. Current Fees are too high, poor Black people still can’t afford university, NSFAS is a trap, #FeesMustFall!

The right to protest is constitutionally protected by Section 17 of the South African Constitution. A protest is normally a last resort in a discourse where one of the parties is overlooked. During #Feesmustfall, protest violence was a form of agency. It was imperative for the nation as a whole to ask the question of why students resorted to a total shutdown of learning spaces in order to be heard. This time around, the students chose to be peaceful, and yet, they were still regarded as criminals.

The appointment of Zeblon Vilakazi as a black person was seen as a yardstick for progressiveness. Amidst these tensions, there have been questions surrounding the Vice-Chancellor’s leadership. Realistically speaking, the man has inherited former Vice-Chancellor, Adam Habib’s broken system, and has been on the job for only three months.

In trying to pin all of Wits problems on the newly appointed figure, are we not being unrealistic on what it actually takes to dismantle a system? Are we not crucifying black actors in the same way that police did not touch white people protesting about going to beaches during a pandemic, while they showed intense aggression towards black protesters talking about education?

I have to confess that it is easy to look in from the outside and say things like, “South Africans have normalised free things”. From a point of privilege, it is easy to accuse them of not working hard enough, and to imply that they just want attention. I would like us to divorce from that narrative, as it allows relevant actors to rest on their laurels without accountability.

“…one cannot reasonably deny you money for tuition, based on the fact that you received money for food.”

Students report victimisation and bribery by university and law enforcement actors during protests. The victimisation does not have to be physical, but it goes to threats of being threatened with academic exclusion for a specific number of years. A former University of Pretoria student was banned from the university campus during #FeesMustFall protests. He was threatened with the hindering of his graduation. Later after a court case, the student won against the university and was eventually allowed to attend his graduation. Graduation attendance was on condition that he would be off social media, and to not defend the protests.

Protests are necessary to deal with issues such as these, where overlooked and ignored individuals can speak up about the realities of academic spaces. Spaces like universities provide education, while making room for future leaders of society to identify and deal with issues. By stifling protest action, that is an attack on the academia process itself, and the future of the law in South Africa. This is not just a Wits issue. It is inherently a UP issue, a UKZN issue, a UCT issue. It should be everyone’s problem. The future of young South Africans is under threat!

“The government is traumatising young people by making them participate in a humiliating game of Poor Olympics.”

This week again, in another episode of “So you say you are poor”, some students were told that by virtue of applying for the R350 Covid-19 grant, they would be disqualified from NSFAS bursaries, as they would have already benefited from the government. That made no sense at all, as one cannot reasonably deny you money for tuition based on the fact that you received money for food. There is a ridiculous logical gap, as R350 cannot be equated to the cost of tuition and accommodation. The government is traumatising young people by making them participate in a humiliating game of Poor Olympics. If one already had to apply for R350 in order to survive, what makes one think that they can afford to pay for tertiary education?

It is painful to see a parallel of the Sharpeville massacres of the 70s. We should do better!

#WitsAsinamali #FeesMustFall #WitsProtest #NSFAS

Connect with Rori via her Blog, Email and LinkedIn:

https://rorisangmoyo2.wixsite.com/website/blog

LinkedInhttps://www.linkedin.com/in/rorisang-moyo-2a8731193/

Email: rori@asanteafrika.net

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