A pot-pourri of recent MalDent Project activities

Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the core activities of the MalDent Project continue to make good progress. This post provides an update on some of the recent developments.

Refurbishment of the Dental Department at Kamuzu Central Hospital

One of the projects that has been delayed by the pandemic is Phase 2 of the refurbishment of the Dental Department at Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe. Following the success of Phase 1, financial support from Scottish Government and the Royal College of Physicians & Surgeons of Glasgow HOPE Foundation has funded the collection and refurbishment of more dental chairs and dental simulator equipment which Dentaid has serviced ahead of transportation and installation in Lilongwe. We have purchased a shipping container and it was loaded just before lockdown. On 23rd September I had a call with my friend and colleague Stuart Bassham, Dentaid’s Warehouse and Engineering Manager.

Enjoying a conversation with Stuart – we’re moving forward with Phase 2

We have decided to arrange for shipping of the container from Dentaid’s depot in Southampton in the next few weeks. This should ensure it arrives in Lilongwe in early 2021, when it will be placed permanently on a site in the grounds of the College of Medicine campus, adjacent to Kamuzu Central Hospital. We will unload the equipment when we visit Lilongwe to undertake the installation, which is tentatively scheduled for June 2021.

Scotland Malawi Partnership Meeting Annual General Meeting, 3rd October 2020

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Scotland Malawi Partnership (SMP) has done a fantastic job of keeping partners in both countries connected and updated on the progress of the infection in our respective homelands. The regular Zoom meetings, which commenced on 31st April 2020, have been informative and, despite the challenges of the pandemic, inspirational in many ways. The COVID-19 hub on the SMP web-site is an excellent source of up to date information.

The SMP Annual General Meeting, held virtually on 3rd October 2020, was a highlight of this year’s activities. One of the centrepieces was the keynote speech from the President of Malawi, Dr Lazarus Chakwera:

In his uplifting speech, Dr Chakwera outlined the priorities he saw for the relationship between Scotland and Malawi in the coming years.

One presentation that was of particular interest for me was the update on the COVID-19 case numbers in Malawi, delivered by Dr Mwapatsa Mipando, Principal of the University of Malawi College of Medicine and a driving force behind the MalDent Project. The data he presented were very encouraging:

Dr Mwapatsa Mipando gave a very clear and positive presentation on COVID-19 in Malawi

However, fingers remain crossed that the pattern of disease seen in many other parts of the world, and currently presenting a major challenge in Scotland, is not repeated in Malawi. As I write this post on 23rd October, things remain hopeful, as demonstrated in the figure below, tweeted by the Government of Malawi Ministry of Health yesterday:

Other details of the SMP AGM are all available to interested readers on the Scotland Malawi Partnership web-site.

Participation in WHO Africa webinar on COVID-19 impact on oral health care service

Regular followers of this blog will have read previously of the MalDent Project links with Dr Yuka Makino, who is the WHO Africa Technical Officer for Oral Health, based in Brazzaville. Yuka played a central role in the National Oral Health Policy Workshop in Lilongwe held on 13th and 14th February 2020.

We were approached by Yuka to ask whether we would contribute to a webinar that she was organising entitled ‘Continuity of essential oral health service in the context of COVID – WHO African Region’. The event was run on 28th and 29th September.

Yuka introduced the objectives of the webinar:

Objectives of the webinar

Yuka had invited speakers from around the globe, including Dr Benoit Varenne who is the Dental Officer at the World Health Organization, based in Geneva:

The programme for Day 1

The presentation on the situation in Scotland and the broader UK was scheduled for Day 2:

The programme for Day 2

It was a privilege for the University of Glasgow to participate in the event.

In addition to speaking about the UK context, Yuka had asked me to provide an update on the MalDent Project, and the challenges that had arisen from COVID-19. I focused on the challenges of delivering on-line learning to students in Malawi because of issues around accessibility of digital devices, WiFi and affordable data bundles. It was good to be able to report on how joint working between Scotland and Malawi had been able to overcome some of these difficulties at the University of Malawi College of Medicine.

This was an excellent webinar, very well organized and run by Yuka. It finished with two concluding slides:

As I read the second of these slides, which focused on the now well-known phrase ‘Build Back Better’, it struck me how many of these recommendations are feeding directly into the ongoing work of the Government of Malawi Oral Health Policy Task Force. In a future blog post we will update on the work of that group, which aims to publish a finished policy document by the middle of 2021.

Recordings of both days of the webinar are available on YouTube and are recommended to all interested readers.

Day 1: 28th September 2020
Day 2: 29th September 2020

Progress with design of the integrated dental teaching facility and student hub

Further to the earlier post, the Stage 1 Report has now been finalised and presented to the MalDent Project team by Paul East and his colleagues at the Edinburgh offices of John McAslan + Partners. The final page of the report includes a rendering of the concept for the building at this stage of the design process.

An exciting vision of how the future may look

Following the initial presentation of the Stage 1 Report, Mwapatsa Mipando shared the draft document and the recording of the design team discussions with key stakeholders at the College of Medicine. He hosted a formal feedback session, to ensure inclusivity of all players who would benefit from this exciting enhancement to the campus infrastructure:

Subsequently, that feedback was shared with Paul East and the design team, followed by a Zoom meeting in which Mwapatsa Mipando and Peter Chimimba clarified queries raised by the local responses.

Following up on the points raised by the feedback session held in Malawi

Paul and the design team have now commenced on Stage 2 of the design process, which is scheduled for completion by the end of November 2020.

Developing a childhood caries prevention programme for Malawi

Ronald Manjomo, the recently appointed PhD student based at the College of Medicine, has made an excellent start on his study programme. He provided an update at a meeting held on 20 October with his two main supervisors, Professors Ken Maleta (College of Medicine) and Lorna Macpherson (University of Glasgow).

Ronald and his supervisory team enjoying a discussion on the current work plan

Since Ronald’s work feeds directly into the activities of the Oral Health Policy Taskforce, he is now joining the meetings of that group as an Observer in the first instance.

In addition to funding from the Scottish Government MalDent Project, Ronald is partly funded by the Borrow Foundation. The Borrow Foundation has recently updated its web-site, which now includes a link to the MalDent Project and specifically mentions the work that Ronald is undertaking as part of our overall programme.

In conclusion, we are maintaining momentum for the MalDent Project despite the COVID-19 challenges. Once again, it is the very strong partnership working at all levels, and the enduring support of our funders, that is enabling us to make progress.

In the very first post I wrote for this blog on 1st September 2018, I quoted Helen Keller, who said: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”. That has proved so true for the MalDent Project to date and has laid the foundations that will see us through the COVID-19 challenges towards achieving our aim of ‘Oral health for all

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