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Tribute to Dr William Mwatu, ‘superman’ of pharma industry




Veteran pharmacist Dr William Mwatu, who passed away at the Nairobi Hospital on December 11, was a colleague, a friend, a guide, a mentor, an adviser and leader, to so many in the pharmaceutical industry.

His passionate advocacy and sincere activism on the governance of medical products made him stand out.

‘Doc’, as he was fondly called, was a tenacious crusader for industry self-regulation. He will be best remembered for being at the forefront of authoring and enabling the first-ever code for medical representatives together with the Pharmacy and Poisons Board in 2004. He was also involved in launching the first-ever industry code of practice in 2016.

His journey was never easy.

Dr Mwatu was part of the team that resuscitated the now vibrant Kenya Association of the Pharmaceutical Industry (Kapi), which had been moribund for years after its inception in 1978.

Dr Mwatu was also at the forefront in fighting counterfeits and substandard medicines in a manner only an impassioned selfless leader would, and there were great successes to show for it. The borders were open and porous, and Dr Mwatu worked with various government agencies to seal these loopholes and bring some order and sanity to the industry. He was one of the actors involved in the setup and enactment of the Anti-Counterfeit Act that signified a great victory against sophisticated criminal networks that targeted Kenya and Africa in general. We can only speculate on how many lives were saved because of his valiant efforts.

Dr Mwatu wore so many hats with a dedicated fervour and indeed served with unmatched passion, opening the frontiers for drug research and pharmacovigilance — or drug safety surveillance — in Africa.

Indeed, he was part of a group that launched the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP).

This launched many careers and made Kenya the go-to place for clinical trial research, especially in tropical diseases such as malaria.

He was also involved in reviewing and offering an industry opinion on regulatory guidelines and laws, helping to shape the regulatory environment in many ways.

One thing that stood out was his passion for building bridges, his efforts led to the first-ever continental Regulatory Harmonisation in the East African Community.

This medicine regulatory harmonisation brings together six EAC countries to come up with guidelines for easing the registration of drugs and have common ways of working.

Dr Mwatu’s efforts were also felt in the continent, effectively serving as an industry adviser and mouthpiece in harmonisation efforts.

Through his global network, he helped Kapi to become an International Federation for Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations Council member and a key player in Africa. Further, Kapi established important contacts and working relationships with Access Accelerated, World Bank and International Finance Corporation that will no doubt yield fruit for the benefit of patients in Kenya.

For the pharma industry, Dr Mwatu was “superman”, who remained humble despite his larger-than-life persona. His quiet unassuming manner, unruffled demeanour in the wake of ever surmounting challenges, set him apart.

The pharmaceutical sector will always remember him for who he was.

A father of the industry, an adviser, a mentor to many, an advocate for doing the right thing, his investment in ethical practices above all else and his commitment to making patients get medicines with the best possible quality, safety and efficacy.

He has left an indelible mark on many a heart.

The industry’s best tribute to him will always be to keep his legacy alive and ensure that Wanjiku has access to the best medicinal care possible in our context.

To quote Shannon Alder: “Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.”

Dr Nyalita is the Chairperson Kenya Association of Pharmaceutical Industry