YALI Voices Podcast: Israel Bimpe Takes a Holistic Approach to Health Care

Israel Bimpe knows that pharmacists play an essential role in advancing public health. In many countries across Africa, “the pharmacy is usually the most accessible health facility,” Bimpe says. “Being that accessible, you have the mandate to educate the population on immunization, on infectious disease, on cleanliness, on many things.”

Israel Bimpe speaks at an international conference.
Israel Bimpe speaks at an international conference.

Bimpe, who is from Rwanda, is the first African president of the International Pharmaceutical Students’ Federation. He helps design and implement public health campaigns about topics like skin care and traditional medicine. These campaigns serve a dual purpose, according to Bimpe: educating members of the local community as well as “showing these students who are about to be pharmacists that this is what you should be doing when you are in your career.”

Bimpe believes that all medical professionals should take a holistic approach to health care. “Usually when we talk about health, we kind of isolate health from the being, from the person,” he says. “I like to talk about health as it’s a part of who you are.”

This holistic approach to health care is also reflected in Bimpe’s support for integration of traditional healing and modern medicine. The Rwandan government has made significant progress in formalizing traditional health care in order to improve outcomes and maintain strong community connections.

Pharmacists like Bimpe will continue to serve an important role in that transformation going forward. “It’s not up to the government to do everything,” Bimpe says. Public health has to be a community initiative, and pharmacists help lead that effort.

You can hear Bimpe talk about how pharmacists advance public health by listening to the YALI Voices podcast or reading the transcript below.

YALI Voices Podcast: Israel Bimpe

ISRAEL BIMPE: Usually when we talk about health, we kind of isolate health from the being, from the person itself or from ourselves and how we do, while health is part of who we are. I think I like to talk about health or communicate about health as it’s part of who you are. There is a way that we describe health as something that is very external to your being. But I think the two examples, it’s something whether being the health care provider or being a patient on both sides, there is a way that it changes how I look at it and how I think of it.

At first as a health care provider, the way I don’t think it’s a job but I think it’s a calling. And that affects how I care about the patients, when I have to work with patients or how I care about the policies or any kind of work that I do in relation to health. I am into it much more less than calling it a job or just doing it for the sake of doing it. And when it comes to the patients, I try to relate with their lives. I try to relate with them and stop looking at just the symptoms and the condition but more of relate with the patient and try to communicate with them to the core of their condition.


♪ Yes we can ♪ ♪ Sure we can ♪ ♪ Change the world ♪

VOICEOVER: Welcome to the YALI Voices Podcast, your home for sharing the best stories from the Young African Leaders Initiative Network. Be sure to subscribe to the YALI Voices podcast and visit yali.state.gov to stay up to date on all things YALI.

Israel Bimpe, a pharmacist by training and the first African to fill the presidency of the International Pharmaceutical Students’ Federation, intends to be a force for change in his native Rwanda and beyond. He knows from experience that pharmacists are often at the forefront in providing health care in many countries. For those who can’t afford or can’t get access to medicine, it is the pharmacist that they turn to for solutions.

Israel feels strongly that health care should be accessible and compassionate. Through his efforts at home and as part of national and international associations, he works at raising awareness through public health campaigns and educational initiatives. His goal is to ensure that a commitment to treating people with humanity and with respect goes hand-in-hand with providing quality health care.

ISRAEL: There is one aspect where when someone is sick, they usually call them according to the disease. Let’s take a simple example. Someone who can’t hear or who can’t speak, they say a deaf, while that’s a person who just can’t hear. So the first thing is adding the humanity to that condition. Realize it’s a person first, but they have this problem that can be solved or can’t be solved depending on where we are in science. The first thing is to come up with how we describe certain things into not defining the person by their disease, but first humanizing the person, say it’s you, it can happen to you. And now, they have this condition, let’s talk about the facts about the condition and get rid of the myth that many people can have about the condition. I think that’s the first thing about humanizing that condition. It’s a person, and then let’s talk about the disease after.

Back home I’m very vocal on trying to improve health care and health systems. I’ve been working as a consultant for a company that tries to link drone services and providing health care. Specifically, how do we use drone technology in delivering medicines, in providing other health services that people may need in mostly countries like Rwanda or other East African or Southern African countries where access to health care products is usually hard and difficult.

Through student organizations and youth organizations I usually work on raising awareness about certain conditions, communicating about certain diseases, and other. So the International Pharmaceutical Students’ Federation that I currently lead has an African Regional Office. So before being president, I was chairperson of that regional office. And what we did in my term was mostly conducting campaigns, public health campaigns, pharmacy education, and do professional development for pharmacy students to try to help them improve their capacity as leaders. One of the highlights maybe is a public health campaign that we did which is on skin care. And people in the world usually can’t relate to that, but skin bleaching is a big issue in Africa. So one of our campaigns was called Beauty Beyond Color, where we tried to tell people it doesn’t matter, the color of your skin, or the color you want your skin to have. Beauty can be found in how your skin just looks. So it was an anti-skin-bleaching ad campaign that we conducted, and it was really successful in more than 20 countries in which we conducted it.

So we have pharmacy students associations in each country and what we did at the central level, from my office and my regional working group, it was more of designing campaign materials that we sent to pharmacy students. And we said, “Be creative in your own city,” because the way you could do it in Ethiopia is very different from how you could do it in Ghana or in Nigeria. And students went all about on how creative they could be. In some countries, they focused on social media because all students are usually on social media. And the target was mostly university students and teenage people who are more into bleaching their skin. And in other countries, they did street campaigns. In other countries, they did market campaigns. So it was fascinating to see, depending on which country students were from.


ISRAEL: It’s a primary role when you are in the public or in the community, and the pharmacy is usually the most accessible health facility in most countries. Being that accessible, you have the mandate to be able to educate the population on immunization, on infectious disease, on cleanliness, on many things. So people should understand that, and that’s what we try to do through the federation while educating them or conducting a lot of public health campaigns.

Those are not only for the sake of the federation, conducting campaigns, but more of showing these students who are about to be pharmacists that this is what you should be doing when you are in your career. Because when they conducted the campaign on skin bleaching, it doesn’t end there, because they received those facts, they received those information, and those information are made for a lay person usually. So when they get into their practice or during their internship and someone has come to the pharmacy with a skin problem, they will be able to know what to tell them, because they know this person might have used skin-bleaching products that turned out bad, and then they’re seeking treatment.

And that goes beyond when it comes to other conditions like tuberculosis, tobacco, cancer for kids, and a lot of those conditions that we want people to be aware of. It has to be personal and deliberate from an individual to want to communicate with their community about that and less of doing business in a pharmacy. You are not selling and dispensing, you are also a health care professional who is supposed to make sure that people are aware of certain things.

Rwanda has taken an approach which health care is not isolated. Everyone who participates in the politics and governance of Rwanda has to care about health care. That comes from people in charge of interior security, the Ministry of Finance, and the Ministry of Education. They all come together and say, “This is what we want to achieve in health care, but how do we go about it, everyone from our field?” And then they will know who will promote cleaning cities, who will promote better construction models on how we clean our cities, who will educate students or young people at school. That model of trying to include everyone in health care and making it a thing of everyone has helped Rwanda to really achieve a lot.

VOICEOVER: We asked Israel to share his thoughts on the relationship between formal medical care and traditional healing. He spoke to the work that the Rwandan government and communities have done to formalize traditional or community health care, including promoting the benefits of formal training and standards, and putting health care facilities close to populations.

ISRAEL: Well, even if there are clinics or any formal health care facilities everywhere, culture allows people to seek traditional health care for some parts. But what Rwanda has understood and done is formalize, try to give it a structure or standards and formalize that practice itself. And what Rwanda did is it’s created federations and associations of all traditional healers and traditional practitioners and try to help them develop standards in cleanliness, in practice, in how they process their products, and all those. And when they create those standards for themselves and even the environment from where they work, it doesn’t have to be a dirty hut that is hidden in the bush. But it can be a nice house, cleaned, painted white, where it’s written that it’s only traditional products that are used or traditional healing that is used, and people can resort to it. And it has been being used even in cities because of how it has been standardized and sort of formalized in a way, but the traditional aspect of it remains in how the products are made and how the healing process is done that certainly differentiate it from witchcraft.

And I think that that’s one of the things that has helped a lot in trying to make sure that we don’t get rid of the traditional healings process that are very beneficial in some instances. But we also make sure they are the most appropriate and most clean possible alternative that people have. And I think that aspect of recognizing that those work and now trying to formalize them and allow those practitioners to create these federations where they can speak up and create their own standards is something that has helped a lot in how they practice, and actually the response and the satisfaction that the population get from those practitioners.

VOICEOVER: Israel wants YALI Network members to know that there are things they can do to ensure that credible, reliable, and verifiable health information as well as quality health care is available in their communities. He sees opportunities for more communication and collaboration between policy makers, health care workers, YALI Network members, and those seeking care.

ISRAEL: It’s not up to the government to do everything. If you are a person who is conscious, and you see that the people you communicate with have needs, and they need to know something, it’s really important that you try to communicate those. And techniques are many, if you just deliberately want to do it, you will find a way to do it.

I mean it’s about knowing who is there and what information they have. I usually talk with a lot of policy makers, and you realize that they don’t have a lot of informations on health care and what’s needed to be done in health care and resources that are needed to drive, to build a sustainable health system. So whenever the population and usually a YALI Network member could be involved in trying to push these policy makers to know about policy making and health-based policy, policies that promote wellbeing, I think that’s the way to go about it. It’s important that first you get to know the informations. You get to know what’s need to be done in certain things and try to convey and communicate that, because if you have to vote for a representative, you have to know what they are going to do.

It doesn’t have to be a blank statement of “We are building hospitals,” but it has to be a deliberate, step-wise process of how that system is going to be built and how sustainable it will be. Because we know countries where hospitals are built everywhere but there are no doctors or nurses to serve in those hospitals. So it has to be a systemwide thing of affecting how are we improving education of health practitioners, how are we improving working environment for health professionals, how are we improving supply chain systems in our countries, additional to building hospitals and all that. So it’s a lot of things that come together. But they need a certain push from the people they lead to be able to do those things.


ISRAEL: I will end my term as president of the International Pharmaceutical Students’ Federation in September. And then I have to go back home and figure out what my contribution should be for the next years in trying to help the country build on what has been achieved and achieve more in health systems. I’m really interested in going into health policy, but now I’m trying to find what’s my niche appropriately. As I said, health systems is something I’m really passionate about. But it’s still broad. So I will find my appropriate niche, which is from my pharmacy degree mostly, related to access to medicine, supply chain, and more of those.

And on a personal level, I will still stay vocal, use my blog, use my Twitter and Facebook accounts to try and talk about what needs to be fixed on a country level, on a continent level, and upload what is being done, and try to communicate as much as I can with my generation and my peers on the best health policy systems reforms and practices that are being done.

VOICEOVER: To hear more from Israel, check out his blog at israb12.wordpress.com. That’s i-s-r-a-b-1-2 dot w-o-r-d-p-r-e-s-s dot com.

Thanks again, Israel.

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