On Friday 7th June I left Glasgow to travel back to Malawi for a ten day visit with multiple objectives in multiple places. In this first of two posts I will cover the initial couple of days of activities in Lilongwe.
My journey from Glasgow was less than straightforward thanks to a cancellation of the Glasgow – Heathrow flight, a switch to an Edinburgh – Heathrow flight which was itself delayed, a rush across Terminal 5 to the Johannesburg departure, which in turn was delayed by a technical fault during engine start-up. Subsequently things ran smoothly and I arrived in Lilongwe early on the Saturday afternoon.
On the Sunday morning I had arranged to meet with Susan Dalgety. Susan is a columnist for The Scotsman newspaper who has moved to Malawi for six months and is writing a book about the country. In her weekly column, Susan shares stories about life in Malawi and about the strong relationship between Scotland and Malawi.
Susan arrived at the Sunbird Capital Hotel as planned at 11am with her husband, Nigel, and we spent a fascinating hour sharing our stories. I chatted at length about our ambitions for improving oral health in Malawi, supported by the significant funding from Scottish Government for the MalDent Project. I also mentioned that a team of colleagues from the University of Glasgow Institute of Infection, Immunity & Inflammation would be visiting Blantyre the following week to install laboratory equipment as part of the Scottish Government-funded Blantyre-Blantyre Project. As events turned out, Susan was able to visit Alex Mackay and the Blantyre-Blantyre team at work later that week and to meet Dr Mwapatsa Mipando, the Principal of the College of Medicine. She left them having gained a clear understanding of their aims and ambitions.
Susan’s column in The Scotsman on Saturday 15th June focused on both projects, which were knitted beautifully into the context of healthcare needs for native Malawians. You can read the article at https://www.scotsman.com/news/susan-dalgety-a-country-of-18-million-and-just-39-dentists-totreat-them-1-4947489
We were delighted to have had this opportunity to share our work and to benefit from Susan’s insight and skilled story-telling in The Scotsman. We will all be keeping in touch as the work develops and look forward very much to reading Susan’s book in due course.
Later on the Sunday I was joined by Paul Tasman, Operations Manager for Bridge2Aid (B2A), who had arrived in Lilongwe for meetings we had set up to discuss the plans for extending the work of B2A from Tanzania to Malawi. At 7pm we met with Wiston Mukiwa, Secretary of the Dental Association of Malawi, for a working dinner. As mentioned in a previous post, the Dental Association of Malawi and B2A have recently been awarded a grant from the Tropical Health & Education Trust to establish a formal partnership. Over dinner we enjoyed a wide-ranging discussion which served as excellent preparation for the meeting scheduled the next morning at the Ministry of Health
The following morning, Wiston collected Paul and I before driving us all to the Ministry of Health building on Capitol Hill. Dr Nedson Fosiko, Deputy Director of Clinical Services, had arranged for Mr Burton Uatantha Chrmo, Deputy Director of Human Resources, to join the meeting and it was also a pleasure to see Mr Richard Ndovi again, who attended in his role as Acting Registrar of the Medical Council of Malawi. Dr Martha Chipanga from the KCH Dental Department attended on behalf of Dr Jessie Mlotha-Namarika.
The main purpose of this meeting was to provide an opportunity for B2A and the Dental Association of Malawi to discuss with senior figures at the Ministry of Health and Medical Council of Malawi the potential for adoption of a task-shifting model that would support delivery of emergency dentistry in rural areas of Malawi. The model would be based upon that developed and used by B2A very successfully in Tanzania for the past 15 years, but adapted to suit the specific requirements of Malawi.
In summary, there was a full and frank discussion with a very positive outcome. It has been agreed that Paul and Wiston will write a concept paper for consideration by the Ministry of Health so that appropriate oversight and approvals can be initiated.
For those wishing to watch the development of this exciting partnership and story, please go to https://www.bridge2aid.org or follow B2A on Facebook or Twitter (@Bridge2Aid).
Following the meeting at the Ministry of Health, Wiston drove us to the Dental Department at Kamuzu Central Hospital. Stuart Bassham from Dentaid had provided me with some items for both the pre-clinical skills facility that had been recently up-graded and for the dental chairs, which I was able to hand over.
It also provided an opportunity for Paul to enjoy a short tour of the facility and to see the work undertaken recently by Dentaid and Henry Schein to upgrade many of the dental chairs, phantom head units and related services.
Our next and final stop on today’s round of meetings was at the offices of the Christian Health Association of Malawi (http://www.cham.org.mw).
CHAM is a key partner to the Government of Malawi and works with the Ministry of Health to implement the Health Sector Strategic Plan. At present, CHAM covers 29% of the health service delivery in Malawi. This includes a significant role in healthcare worker training to enhance the availability of skilled workforce. Furthermore, 85% of CHAM’s work is in the rural areas of Malawi, making it a very important player in the discussions linked to the emergency dentistry task-shifting plans of B2A and the Dental Association of Malawi.
Wiston had arranged for us to meet with Dr Titha Dzowela, the Head of Health Programmes for CHAM. This was a great opportunity for sharing of ideas and, as in the morning at our meeting with the Ministry of Health, there was strong support for working together on the preparations and field work ahead of a pilot study of a B2A training programme in Malawi.
Following this final meeting of the day, Wiston kindly dropped Paul and I at the Sunbird Capital Hotel, before he headed back to work. Paul and I enjoyed some further discussion over lunch after what had been a very inspiring day of preparatory meetings. An excellent foundation had been laid for the next steps to progress the THET – funded partnership project.