â€œWHEN we are abroad, the concern we hear from donors and pundits is the notion of lack of access to medication, good health-care and poor facilities. But what we ignore is the alarming rate of misuse of medications,â€ says Daniel Kawuma.
Kawuma is a Ugandan pharmacist based in the US with a job that entails making sure medications prescribed for patients are appropriate and safe, yet sadly, he recalls how this was the cause of the demise of his grandfather last year.
â€œIt is painful because what killed him is what I prevent at my job every day,â€ says the pharmacist.
Kawuma job, which he has held for two years, requires him to give advice on up-to-date treatments, and in cases where patients are on different treatments, to make interventions that will counter effects of chemical interactions between the numerous medications.
He says whenever he visited his family in Uganda, he would ask his grandfather to show him the medications he had been prescribed.
â€œHe would pull out a stack of medications that were often not well-labelled, in small envelopes marked 2x2 or 1x3,â€ says Kawuma, adding that some looked expired, while others were duplicate treatments prescribed by multiple doctors.
â€œMy grandfather passed away because he continued taking his diabetic medication without eating much for days due to sickness. Diabetic medications are meant to lower blood sugar. However, he had very low blood sugar already from not eating. He ended up in a coma, which he never recovered from,â€ Kawuma narrates.
On the state of health facilities in Uganda
Kawuma, who is passionate about public health policies, says Uganda has a major problem of counterfeit medications and drug diversion.
His goal is to come up with a proposal or pilot project for the Ministry of Health to focus more on optimum patient counselling, which requires trained personnel to educate patients on how to purchase drugs in pharmacies.
Kawuma studied at Kings College Buddo up to Senior Five, when he was awarded the United World College Scholarship to study in Norway.
In Norway, he attended the Red Cross Nordic United World College for two years.
He then went to Macalester College in Minnesota, where he graduated with a bachelors degree in biology biochemistry.
Kawuma also holds a doctor of pharmacy degree from the University of Minnesota.
What do you like about what you are doing?
Kawuma says he enjoys working with patients.
He adds that his job gives him the opportunity to talk to patients about treatment goals and how to optimise their drug therapy.
â€œI find that many patients do not spend enough time with their doctors to understand and learn about their medications,â€ he adds.
Kawuma says what drives him is to always be the best he can be.
On working and living in the diaspora
â€œAlmost everyone who comes abroad comes to pursue greener pastures, either through education and job opportunities,â€ Kawuuma says.
He adds that there is always the element of cultural shock and lifestyle changes that one has to adapt to.
Kawuma, however, says he found a cushion in the big Ugandan community in Minnessota, which used to organise events such as Uganda Independence Day celebrations, and even had a Ugandan football team. â€œWe played football with other Ugandans every Saturday,â€ he says.
Misuse of drugs worries expert