The very special meeting – welcome to Ben Macpherson MSP

Wednesday 26 September was a very important day for the University of Malawi College of Medicine and for the MalDent Project because Ben Macpherson MSP, Scottish Government Minister for Europe, Immigration and International Development, was to visit the Lilongwe Campus and the Dental Department at Kamuzu Central Hospital that afternoon. This was part of a wide-ranging tour by the Minister, who was visiting Scottish funded projects in Zambia and Malawi. The COM Team had been busy preparing for some weeks and I was delighted to have been invited to participate.

In the morning, Peter, Nyengo and I went across to the Dental Centre for a run-through of the visit with Jessie (Head of the Department) and Martha, another of the dentists who works there and who had attended the curriculum conference a year earlier.

(L to R) Nyengo, Jessie, Martha, JB and Peter outside the Dental Department after running through the itinerary for the Minister’s visit

Final preparations were underway, including the placing of some posters in the pre-clinical skills facility which is awaiting refurbishment with units that are being donated by Dentaid (see earlier blog post):

Whilst we were there, we met a group of dentists who work with Rotary International and who were treating patients along with dental therapy trainees. I was introduced to Sophie Kalinde, who oversees the local Rotary Club and who has suggested I link with Rotary International in Scotland on my return, so that’s a follow-up activity on my list.

Peter, Sophie Kalinde and Wiston Suya (President of the Dental Association of Malawi) in the main hall of the Dental Department

There was much anticipation whilst we were waiting for the Minister to arrive. At one point a group of dental therapy students passed us, going into the Dental Department, one of whom was a very snappy dresser. A picture (with consent!) was irresistible, if only as an example to UK students of what is possible!

Jessie and I with dental therapy student Billy Chikwawe

Following arrival and after the customary hand shakes and greetings in the Conference Room, the Minister was invited to sign the Visitor’s Book.

Ben Macpherson MSP signs the Visitors’ Book in the Dental Department Conference Room

He was then formally welcomed by the Hospital Director, Dr Jonathan Ngoma.

Dr Jonathan Ngoma welcomes the Minister to Kamuzu Central Hospital

The Minister responded and we then set off on a tour that included the existing clinical area, (which will soon be upgraded with dental chairs donated by NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde Oral Health Directorate) and the pre clinical skills facility which will soon be refurbished with units donated by Dentaid.

One of the dental units in the Dental Department which requires repair. The chair will soon be replaced with one of the chairs donated by NHS GGC and serviced by Dentaid
Clinical Skills Lab
Peter and Jessie explain to the Minister the plans for refurbishment of the pre-clinical skills facility

Finally, the delegation moved to the HIV Testing Service, which is an integral part of the Dental Department. The latter was a facility I was delighted to be able to discuss with the Minister, since it allows HIV testing of all dental patients as part of Malawi’s 90-90-90 programme. This programme aims to achieve 90% of the population aware of their HIV status of which 90% are on HIV anti-retroviral treatment and 90% are virally suppressed. In 2018, Malawi has achieved a very creditable 90-79-87. The concept of using dental practices for a variety of health screening purposes, such as HIV testing, in the UK has been discussed and shown possible in research pilot studies, but has still to be adopted widely. This is a good example of an area in which the UK can learn from Malawi as part of a two-way partnership.

The HIV counselling and testing room, staffed by Margaret Mwazalamba

The Minister, his delegation and all guests then transferred to the Lilongwe College of Medicine Campus. Here, Peter was able to give a detailed account of the various aspects of the MalDent Project, illustrated by a poster that summarised the aims and activities.

Peter explains the various elements of the MalDent Project to the Minister
Maldent poster
Peter, Mwapatsa and I with Ben Macpherson MSP beside the Maldent Project poster 

The Minister was also briefed on the Blantyre Blantyre project between the University of Glasgow Institute of Infection, Immunity & Inflammation and the College of Medicine. I have commented in an earlier blog on the tremendous support that the MalDent Project has enjoyed from Paul Garside, Alex Mackay, Andy Waters and Iain McInnes, who were responsible for initially introducing me to Mwapatsa Mipando.

Dr George Chirambo briefed the Minister on the Blantyre Blantyre Project

Finally, Nyengo described the joint working on mental health projects between Scotland and Malawi.

Nyengo Makandawire and the Minister beside the poster describing the partnership working on mental health 

After these descriptions of the three projects we moved to a conference room where Macpherson Malewa, Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and who had studied previously at St Andrews University, officially welcomed the Minister to the College of Medicine Lilongwe Campus.

Mwapatsa Mipando, the College Principal, then gave an excellent summary of the longstanding partnership working between Scottish Government and the College of Medicine, reflecting positively on past achievements and looking forward with excitement and optimism to the recently funded initiatives including the Blantyre Blantyre Project, the University governance work and the MalDent Project.

The Principal addressing the Minister and assembled guests

The Minister responded in a similarly upbeat manner and the formalities concluded with presentation by Jessie of a gift to the Minister.

Jessie presenting the Minister with a book about the history of the College of Medicine 

Whilst the Minister and the Principal met with the media, the other guests enjoyed tea outside.We then all gathered at the entrance of the College for a group photo …

Group photo

before a shaking of hands…


… and the Minister’s departure for his next engagement.

We were all left on a ‘high’ after this incredibly successful event. The relaxed, friendly atmosphere during the visit had allowed us all to participate fully, reflecting the true partnership working that is underway.

Peter and I returned to the Sunbird Capital Hotel where we gravitated to the bar for a celebratory drink – a ‘green’ for me and a red wine for Peter. We were later joined by Nyengo and Wiston …

Wiston, Nyengo and Peter toast the MalDent Project

… then finally by Mwapatsa who generously invited us all to dinner in Vincent’s Restaurant.

It was a wonderful meal in all respects – food, service and company. I learned much of the very long-standing friendship between Wiston and Peter, both of whom have worked tirelessly for improved oral healthcare in Malawi over many years and who are now dedicated to making the very best of the resource provided by Scottish Government for the MalDent Project.

Enjoying a wonderful meal in Vincent’s Restaurant, courtesy of Mwapatsa

The British High Commissioner had invited us to a Reception in honour of the Minister’s visit on the Thursday evening, which Peter would attend, but by then I was to be on my journey home and regretfully had to send apologies. So on the Thursday morning I bade Peter farewell at the Sunbird Capital, until my next visit in November 2018 for a final curriculum conference to confirm the BDS curriculum content before its submission for University of Malawi approval.

Leaving Lilongwe to start the journey home.

I was driven back to Blantyre to catch a flight to Dar es Salaam, then home via Dubai, retracing my steps taken two weeks earlier as I headed out from Glasgow for the visit to Chato with Bridge2Aid.

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After time in the ‘Warm heart of Africa’ it was chilly leaving the Emirates plane for the Glasgow tarmac

It had been a wonderful two weeks, spent with some amazing people. The Scottish Government grant officially starts on Monday 1st October for 4.5 years – what an opportunity and what an exciting prospect!

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