Published: 23 Jan 2019

Anthony Kamau talks to Alicia Dimas about how quality is playing an increasingly important role in the East African health sector

AD: What role has the CQI played in your career?

Anthony Kamau (AK): One of the greatest challenges facing quality professionals in Africa is a lack of proper access to good platforms to help improve their technical skills and provide continuous personal development opportunities. The CQI membership has worked well for me, as it has helped to close this gap by providing me with a steady flow of information, knowledge and networking opportunities which have served to increase my knowledge, expertise and provide networking forums with like-minded professionals. This has been a treasure in my career life, as I utilise the skills learnt to continuously improve my performance, and has seen me move from managing quality and risk at a national level to a regional level covering East Africa. I’m quite optimistic that in the future my partnership with the CQI will help to open new horizons for my career at an international level.

AD: Do you find the CQI Competency Framework useful in your job?

AK: Yes, I do. I developed the acronym LAGIC to help me easily recall the five pillars of the CQI Competency Framework, which is an excellent tool for 360 degrees skills growth. As a business process improvement professional, the framework allows me to regularly self-evaluate my competency against Leadership, Assurance, Governance, Improvement and Context (LAGIC). It helps to open my eyes to other areas where I still need to grow my knowledge and skills – because being the leader in quality in my organisation could easily give me a false illusion that I have ‘made it’.

These new skills are helping me to better serve in a cross functional role that involves me working with all departments in our organisation. LAGIC makes this easier, as it helps me to understand the uniqueness of each role in the organisation, and the need to ensure that I support them, so we all contribute effectively to the achievement of our main goals. I see the CQI Competency Framework as a compass – continuously giving me direction for my adventure in continuous skills development.

AD: This year, the CQI celebrates 100 years. In your opinion, how has quality helped develop the health sector in East Africa in the past century?

AK: The healthcare sector in East Africa has come a long way. In the past, sickness and disease were considered to be a curse that had befallen the community or, where healthcare existed, this would be provided through traditional medicine men. At the beginning of the 20th century early Western explorers began introducing the concept of the modern-day healthcare and manufactured medicines. Healthcare started to develop, although quality was still a largely unheard of concept.

Quality improvement began to be imbedded into East Africa’s healthcare systems by the 1970s. Due to quality systems, the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry in East Africa, has grown from a sector that really did not exist at the beginning of the 20th century, to having about 50 to 100 manufacturing sites spread out through the region. Multinational organisations have also heavily influenced the sector by introducing concepts such as continuous improvement, governance and assurance as ways of ensuring that international standards are adhered to locally.

ADHow can the CQI help to further improve the health sector in East African countries?

AK: The CQI can play a leading role in guiding continuous improvement of the health sector in East Africa. The sector needs to adopt strategies such as the CQI Competency Framework so that professionals in the health sector are able to develop themselves, not only from a medical point of view, but also in other areas like leadership and governance.

ADYou are implementing and running Quality Management Systems together with the World Health Organization and the European Union Good Distribution Practices for Pharmaceuticals across East Africa. What do you enjoy the most about this work?

AK: ISO 9001 – Quality Management Systems and both the World Health Organization and the European Union Good Distribution Practices (GDP) for Pharmaceuticals guidelines have many similarities. Though ISO 9001 is generic, the GDP guidelines are industry specific hence, this is one of the things I enjoy most about implementing these requirements concurrently.

The guidelines complement each other very well, for instance the GDP guidelines state that one should establish a quality management system (QMS), however, they don’t give you the actual steps of going about this. This is where ISO 9001 comes in, to guide you on the actual steps to take in establishing the QMS.

When we implement the systems concurrently, it is rewarding to know that an organisation in Africa with these systems is on par with similar organisations in Europe.

AD: Why are you so passionate about continuous improvement?

AK: The Japanese philosophy of kaizen (continuous improvement) is to improve step by step and reduce waste – by regularly seeking ways of making sure that things are done better. Companies that are able to understand this concept consistently reengineer themselves, even when faced with numerous obstacles.

Continuous improvement reminds me that there is always a way to overcome obstacles. So instead of running away from challenges, I have learned to embrace them, and wrestle with them until a solution is found. The beauty of the ‘crown’ (solution) will always makes us forget the ‘thorns’ (problems) of the process. Hence, my passion for continuous improvement.

ADDo organisations you work with share this passion or are they not so aware of the benefits that a continuous improvement mindset can bring to them?

AK: Every organisation is always seeking new innovative ways of creating efficiency. Before we developed a quality system in my current organisation, we had a culture of improving efficiency. However, this was not clearly defined; we were not reaping the full benefits of continuous improvement.

Today it is a different story. The organisation is reaping the benefits of implementing a quality management system and has fully embraced the culture of continuous improvement. We have implemented dashboards to monitor KPIs (key performance indicators) and help us review them effectively. Our senior management are now the champions of continuous improvement throughout the organisation.

ADWhy did you decide to become a Youth Mentor?

AK: During my schooling days, one of the challenges I faced was a lack of guidance in the career path I would take in the future. I struggled to understand the right direction to take in my courses. Fortunately, I made the right choices along the way after guidance from my elder sisters and a former boss.

However, when I later joined university as a part-time student, I realised that most young people were facing the same challenges I had years ago. At work, we also started to notice that most young people coming in for interviews were not exactly sure of what they wanted from the job market.  One of the university professors had witnessed the same gap and he had decided to do something to address these challenges. He started a mentorship programme for university students to help prepare them for the job market, and I later joined the programme as a mentor.

Walking with young people on their initial career journey to help them discover and shape it is a phenomenal experience. Through the programme I had the privilege of mentoring a young university student who was struggling to find his footing due to negative peer pressure, today he is on the path to fullfiling his dream of becoming as successful enterprenuer. It’s very rewarding to see the transformation as a mentor.