Prof Faith Okalebo: A stalwart of the pharmacy profession.

Get pharma insights from this interview with Prof Faith Okalebo. An Associate Professor at the University of Nairobi, where she teaches Pharmacology.
Prof Faith Okalebo

The fond memories are clear to see from the beaming smile Prof Faith Okalebo makes when talking about her late father. She doesn’t hesitate to acknowledge the key role that both him and her late mum played in the achievements and accolades she has garnered over the years. Even though they are no more, the principles that they instilled in her; humility sheer hard work and excellence still drives her to this day. At African Pharmaceutical Review we had a sit down with the good Professor with the goal of gaining insights of the pharmacy profession through the eyes of her experience.

For the people who probably are not familiar with you, would you please introduce yourself?

My name is Faith Okalebo, an Associate Professor at the University of Nairobi, Kenya where I teach Pharmacology in the Department of Pharmacology, Clinical pharmacy and Pharmacy practice (formerly School of Pharmacy).

I’m also a course coordinator for one of the Master of Pharmacy programs.

Historically in Africa, particularly in your era growing up, girls’ schooling was never seen as a top priority for most parents. How were you able to achieve such high levels of education under those circumstances?

My late dad. I attribute all of it to him and my mum.

God blessed me and my siblings with extraordinary parents.

They never saw us as girls or boys. We were just children. Children who needed to be given the best platform to succeed. But, with that platform came tremendous expectation for excellence.

The life sciences have historically been a male-dominated field, how has your experience been over the years?

(Laughs) Growing up, I was oblivious of the challenges women faced while pursuing a professional career. It was only when I joined campus that I was confronted with the concept of minimization of women’s achievements.

 I felt extremely disadvantaged as a woman and it was not nice.

 I had the realization and made a vow that as a woman, I had to work four times as hard as my male counterparts to make it virtually impossible to be ignored.

Prof Faith Okalebo
School of Pharmacy, University of Nairobi (credit: University of Nairobi)

The history of the School of Pharmacy at the University of Nairobi can be traced back to the 70s. You joined the school as an undergraduate in 1989, Masters student in 2001 and then as a lecturer for over 25 years. How do you think the curriculum has evolved to suit the new trends of the pharmacy profession?

It has changed a lot. I mean, there were units that were literally nonexistent.

Before I joined as an undergraduate student, for instance, pharmacy management and clinical pharmacy were not in the curriculum.

In my opinion the students at the time graduated handicapped in a crucial set of skills which I believe they needed to succeed. I am happy that changed.

Interestingly, I once attended a workshop where it was stated that in the public sector, among medical professionals, pharmacists have statistically been found to be the best managers (in health facilities and programs). I don’t think it is a coincidence.

The Pharmacy and Poisons Board (PPB), being the key regulator in the practice of pharmacy Kenya, have they had any influence on this curriculum evolution?

Yes, the PPB has recently come up with a quite ambitious draft curriculum for universities.

Their proposal is to officially introduce courses such as Pharmacovigilance and Research Methodology in the undergraduate coursework.

My only concern is that the course work may prove too heavy for the students.

What would you recommend?           

First, I believe there should be a greater focus on exponential learning where students are taught largely through hands-on experience and reflection rather than through abstract theories and concepts.  

Second, introduction of tracks (specializations).

We can borrow a leaf from our Bachelor of Commerce counterparts who are able to choose a specialization or tracks in the early stages of their program.

 In my experience there are undergraduate students who have minimal interest in clinical aspects, some are more inclined towards pharmacy business while others in research and manufacturing. Why not facilitate this?

Read also: Pharmacists: How to tackle addiction among drug custodians (

What do key stakeholders in the continent think?

The African Union for example, developed and proposed a pharmacy undergraduate curriculum that was geared at accelerating developmental drug manufacturing capacity in Africa. It is radically different from our current program.

It is a good proposal especially with the long-term goal of making the continent self-sustainable in regards to medicine supplies.

However local capacity needs to be improved first before such a curriculum can be implemented.

You had a stint as a company pharmacist, a retail pharmacist, and then as a hospital pharmacist (in one of the biggest hospitals in Kenya). It seems though you found a home in academia.  Why academia?

(Laughs) In my time, the role of the pharmacist was not as expansive as it is now. The options were extremely narrow.

The convention was you either become a retail or hospital pharmacist. That was my mindset at the time. Thinking about it, it’s true what they say, “you are truly limited by your environment.”

I enjoyed my time working in KAM pharmacy (retail) but I never truly felt professionally satisfied.

Working at Aga Khan, though a great learning experience and a nice pay check, I still felt that I was in a place where I was not deriving satisfaction and happiness. That bred huge frustration and I knew I had to do something about it.

I prayed deeply for a miracle and this bore fruit through a UON advertisement for a tutorial fellow. With zero hesitation I applied and I have never looked back since. 25 years later I believe it is the best decision I ever made.

In the last couple of years pharmacists have been struggling to get employment. What would your advice be to unemployed pharmacists and high school students who probably are thinking of joining the program, but they’re unsure due to that lack of job security.

(Sighs) It pains my heart but they should not lose hope.

First, there are now opportunities to venture abroad and there are agencies that specialize in facilitating these moves. A lot of health professionals are now looking at countries like Australia, Canada and even the UK for work opportunities. My projection is that in a few years, Africa will be the source of manpower for the more developed countries in the health domains. It is unfortunate that a country can train pharmacists only for them to seek greener pastures in developed countries.

Second, our pharmacists can focus on entrepreneurship and innovation. For example, I’ve seen many of our graduates establishing companies that focus on drug importation.

 In Nigeria, I noted that they are now teaching innovation and entrepreneurship to pharmacists something I think we should add into our curriculum.

Some Nigerian pharmacy graduates have set up fertility clinics while others are manufacturing APIs (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients) for antibiotics in West Africa. So it can be done.

Thirdly there are atypical areas that pharmacists can venture into.

 I know of two pharmacists; one is thriving in data science while the other in supplies management in a logistics firm. Roles you wouldn’t typically associate with the profession.

I have had experience being your student both in undergraduate and Master’s programs. And to me (and to some of your former students), one thing that stands out is your humility and supportive nature in your approach to teaching and mentorship. What keeps you grounded despite your achievements and accolades?

(Laughs)Wow thank you for the compliment.

Three things keep me grounded.

One is my late father; he was the epitome of humility despite his extraordinary academic achievements. I mean he went out of his way to serve, way beyond his call of duty and that left a great impression on me. It was a true example on how to treat people and live a meaningful life.

Second is my religion. The Catholic church, emphasize that the greatest prayer that one can give to God is serving with dedication, humility, love, and excellence. Some Christians divorce what they do as people, from prayer. There is such a great divide. but for me if you serve well, that is a prayer to God.

Thirdly I have had experience in some offices where I didn’t feel I was served with dignity. It is quite demoralizing and demeaning. I made a vow that I would be different. I therefore always try to make a pleasant experience for not only my students, but those who I interact with.

What kind of legacy would you like to leave behind?

(Sighs) That’s a tough question.


I would like to be remembered for the impact that I have made in academia. Both as a lecturer and researcher.

 It is fair to say that I have devoted most of my life to academia. And honestly, my greatest contribution has been in development, implementation and sustenance of postgraduate programs within the School of Pharmacy.

Tanzania is in the process of implementing a course on Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacovigilance, a program I have coordinated for years. They say if somebody imitates you, that is the highest form of praise.

That is what I hope my legacy will be.

Which pharmacy industry leader would you want to hear from, tell us in the comments?

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  1. Prof taught us Pharmacology at UON ages ago while pursuing her PhD. She gave a rare human touch and gentleness to university learning and her subjects were well understood and retained. Her warm approach inspired me when I too found myself in front of students and I made a point of making every interaction with learners pleasant and memorable.
    Kenyan pharmacists are much sought after overseas and countries like Australia and Canada are welcoming them with open arms. If opportunities are scarce here, strike out to new territory. There are numerous niche, specialist areas of pharmacy out there today. Our curricula do need to be benchmarked globally to assure compatibility with worldwide practice standards. Lovely piece.

  2. What a refreshing account! I remember her fondly from my PharmSchool days and even been glad to see her again at a recent PPB PV – Industry Forum. Also, did thr school go back to being a department?

  3. Wonderful! Prof. Okalebo is an amazing lecturer and I enjoy her lessons. Looking forward to venturing into the Pharmacy world with much excitement

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