Felix Khuluza is a CARTA cohort 5 graduate from Kamuzu University of Health Sciences (KUHeS) and was recently promoted to Associate Professor of Pharmacy, in the Pharmacy Department. In this personal account, he reflects on his academic and professional journey and his quest for quality and safe medicine in Malawi and beyond.
A passion for pharmacy
As far as I can remember, I have always been resolute about contributing to better health outcomes in my country and beyond. I have therefore been deliberate in carving a path that allows me to be in a position to find solutions to health challenges particularly substandard and falsified medicines in low-and middle-income countries in order to contribute towards better health for the poor through higher education and a career in Pharmacy.
I was among an inaugural group that enrolled for a Diploma in Pharmacy at the Malawi College of Health Sciences when it was introduced as a direct course. I was also in the first group for an honors degree in Pharmacy when it was introduced at Kamuzu University of Health Sciences (KUHES), formerly the College of Medicine, University of Malawi. I graduated with a first-class Bachelor’s Degree and immediately joined KUHeS as an Assistant Lecturer in April 2010. With a scholarship from the Australian Awards Scholarship in 2012, I proceeded to undertake a Master’s Degree in Health Economics at the University of Queensland. I came back to Malawi in August 2013 having completed the degree and assumed a Lecturer position.
Between 2014 and 2015, with the guidance and collaboration with Prof. Lutz Heide (University of Malawi and University of Tubingen Germany), we won a grant from the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) to study the quality of antimalarial and antibiotic medicines in Malawi. This was followed by a CARTA scholarship and with the two grants, I enrolled in a PhD program at KUHeS. Professors – Lutz Heide and Ulrike Holzgrabe (Institute of Pharmacy and Food Chemistry and University of Würzburg, Germany) were both my primary and secondary supervisors, respectively. I successfully completed the program in 2018 and graduated with a PhD in Pharmacy (specializing in Pharmaceutical Analysis).
While advancing my academic pursuits, I developed passion for research and appreciated the role it can play in realizing impact and the common good. As a researcher, I have particular interest in the quality of medicines and their relationship with pharmaceutical supply chains and logistics and associated public health impact. This has been my passion since my undergraduate studies in 2006.
The passion has grown, as in most cases whenever there is treatment failure, we assume either the patient was not complying or is resistant to the medicine. What we forget is that in some cases it would be that the patient was under-dosed due to poor-quality medicines which is often ignored in the medical circle. There is also a growing concern with the administering of poor-quality antibiotics which is contributing to antimicrobial resistance. For us to combat these problems, there is need to assure the quality and safety of medicine given to patients. And it is my endeavor to do this and potentially aid Malawi’s Pharmacy and Medicines Regulatory Authority in routine testing of medicines that are on the market.
For any academician, professorship is a status we all aspire to achieve, being the highest rank. My recent promotion to the rank of Associate Professor is one step toward this coveted position. It is therefore an achievement I am extremely proud of in my career as well as for the pharmacy professional in Malawi. I am very happy because Malawi has very few pharmacy professionals who have attained such a rank and to join the hopefully growing number is encouraging. Additionally, in the Department of Pharmacy at KUHeS, I am the first local person to attain Associate Professorship.
There are several components that have contributed to my growth including strong mentorship and training, and supportive family and friends. Various academicians including Professors – Lutz Heide, Victor Mwapasa (KUHeS), and Adamson Muula (KUHeS) have rendered such mentorship and guidance at different stages of my journey. Additionally, administrative support from KUHeS has enabled the implementation of various research on the quality of medicines.
The CARTA program has particularly played a huge role in advancing my career and research aspirations. During my fellowship, CARTA was a unique platform that allowed me to acquire advanced research and grant writing skills through the Joint Advanced Seminars (JASes). I would say the biggest contribution of CARTA has been the sharpening of my academic writing skills. This has resulted in me being among the prolific researchers, able to competitively win grants as well as publish in high-impact journals. The program has exposed me to networks that have been of great personal and professional benefit. Further, the CARTA reentry grant (awarded in 2019) and the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership II (EDCTP II) early career grant (awarded in 2020) have both enriched my academic and research profile. The CARTA re-entry grant specifically provided a platform where I was able to partner with Prof. Victor Mwapasa who has been key in mentoring my academic journey.
An inadequate number of senior academicians is one concern at the Department of Pharmacy at KUHeS, and this has been cited as a challenge by several external examiners and assessors. My promotion will hopefully bridge this gap and reduce some of the shortfalls that the Department has been experiencing. A priority in my role will be to intensify mentorship to more junior researchers and quality supervision to graduate and postgraduate students. I also intend to continuously compete for more grants that can support my work toward ensuring that there is quality medicine in Malawi. As I aspire to be a full professor over hopefully the next three years, I plan to work to meet the criteria and realize this achievement.
Reflecting on my own journey and the R&D ecosystem in Africa, I wish to tell early career researchers in Africa to have a goal and aim to achieve that goal. When you have something you are working towards, then you have the drive to work hard, be persistent and focused. In this academic journey, there will be several distractions and one needs to stay focused towards the goal!