CORVALLIS, Ore. – A distinguished alumnus of the Oregon State University College of Pharmacy’s class of 1982 is returning to campus from his native Cameroon to receive an award for the work he has done in his home country.
Nkwenti Davidson Achu will receive the Noel B. Flynn Award for Alumni Achievement Thursday, June 11, at 3 p.m. in the Pharmacy Building Conference Room 213. During the event, which is free and open to the public, Achu will speak on “Health Care and Pharmacy Practice in Cameroon.” A traditional Cameroon tea ceremony and a red feather presentation, also a Cameroon tradition, will follow.
Achu is the president of the Cameroon Diabetes Association, the owner of a popular Cameroon pharmacy, president of the National Council of the Pharmaceutical Society of Cameroon and vice president of the Commonwealth Pharmacists Association. Through the years he has been a champion for the treatment of chronic diseases, and has helped create three pharmacy schools in the country, using lessons he gained from his time at OSU.
Achu said that he found it challenging to be the only black student, and the only African, in the pharmacy program when he attended OSU, but adds that he found the administration receptive to his needs and concerns.
“On the whole my stay at Oregon State University was splendid,” he said. “That is why I have established a life-long relationship with the university and the College of Pharmacy in particular.”
Achu said the pharmacy curriculum helped him develop skills to face both professional and personal challenges later in life.
“I remember (former) Dean Richard Ohvall’s words, ‘My students, I know how hard your studies are, but you will only appreciate what we are doing to you after you have successfully completed your studies here.’”
After graduation, Achu returned to Cameroon and got a job with the Ministry of Public Health as a pharmacy inspector. He found the job tedious and paperwork heavy, and felt that he wasn’t able to use the skills he’d gained at OSU. This feeling was reinforced when his mother was diagnosed with a lump in her breast, and had to go through a mastectomy. While spending time at the hospital, he volunteered to help the doctors there and uncovered an incident where an employee accidentally dispensed the wrong medication to a patient, which resulted in the patient’s death.
This galvanized Achu’s determination to find a way to more directly help people. He requested a transfer to a hospital, and was eventually appointed director of Nkongsamba Divisional Hospital, where he also supervised work in five other hospitals. There, he established an “ideal unit dose” system for medications based on similar systems in American hospitals. This helped prevent medical directors from stealing hospital medicines and gave pharmacies a say in the hospital’s drug budget.
After spending time directing a national office for pharmaceutical products, Achu went into private practice, and created Professional Plaza Pharmacy, which is now one of the leading pharmacies in Cameroon. The pharmacy has a referral and improvised drug information service, and pharmacists often refer their patients to specialists when they see the need, and are trained to follow up and make sure the patients have received proper treatment.
“When I was director of pharmacy in Nkongsamba Hospital I found that general care of patients with chronic diseases was poor,” Achu said. “I started organizing refresher courses for nurses and doctors and I gave talks on management of patients with chronic diseases.”
Achu has also created a pilot regional diabetes education center, where diabetes educators receive training. He became interested in diabetes issues when his wife Phebe, a nurse, was researching diabetes as part of her studies. He and his wife have now been certified to train diabetes educators, and Achu is president of the Cameroon Diabetes Association. He is also a member of the International Diabetes Federation Managing Board for Africa, and he helped write a diabetes training manual for sub Saharan Africa.
Achu and his wife have four children. Sharon is a post-graduate student at Portland State University and is planning to go to pharmacy school and follow in her father’s footsteps. Emmanuel is a pre-med graduate who will start medical school this fall. Vanessh is a second-year law student and the youngest, Genlyn, will start college in the fall. Within the next five years, both he and his wife hope to retire, and he hopes his daughter Sharon will take over running Professional Plaza Pharmacy.