A warm MalDent Project welcome to friends from Malawi and Zimbabwe

We have recently had the pleasure of welcoming Nelson Nyoloka to Glasgow. Nelson is a Lecturer in Pharmacology at the University of Malawi College of Medicine and has enrolled on the MSc in Clinical Pharmacology at the University of Glasgow. He works closely with Peter Chimimba’s wife Frider, who is also an academic member of the pharmacology staff team at the College of Medicine. Lorna Macpherson and I had been able to meet Nelson in Blantyre in February 2020, when we visited Malawi for the national Oral Health Policy Workshop.

First meeting with Nelson Nyoloka in Blantyre in February 2020

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the start of Nelson’s MSc programme had been deferred to November. I was delighted to hear that he had arrived in Glasgow, but for the first two weeks he had to quarantine according to the COVID-19 regulations. Shortly after his quarantine period ended, we agreed to meet on a Saturday morning for a socially distanced outdoor coffee, a chat and a walk around the University.

Nelson at his new residence for the next year

After a very enjoyable catch up over our coffee, we set out for the main University of Glasgow campus.

Getting to know the beautiful University of Glasgow campus

We were lucky to catch a dry spell before rain arrived later in the day and Nelson was excited to see the beautiful buildings around the campus – lots of photographs were taken!

Our walk back to Nelson’s hall of residence took us through Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens. The many squirrels were a novelty for Nelson, and I recounted how the equivalent novelty for me in Malawi had been to see monkeys running around a conference centre near Mangochi which we were visiting for one of the early BDS curriculum development meetings.

In Glasgow Botanic Gardens – with a squirrel!

It is unfortunate that Nelson has arrived in Glasgow during this period of COVID-19 restrictions. However, he is very positive and determined to make the most of his time in Scotland. We look forward to sharing that experience with him.

Our other recent meeting was with Cleopatra Matanhire, who has joined the University of Glasgow from Zimbabwe to complete an MSc in Global Health. Cleopatra is one of three postgraduate students (one each from Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe) in Glasgow funded by the Beit Trust on their Joint University Partnership scheme. Cleopatra trained as a dentist in Zimbabwe and in view of this, our good friend Alex Mackay from the Wellcome Centre for Integrative Parasitology, who is closely involved with the Beit Trust-funded students, passed on Cleopatra’s details. However, even before I had made the connection, Charlotte had been in touch with us at Glasgow Dental School, demonstrating her commitment to developing partnerships and pushing forward with her professional ambitions.

Cleopatra gained a Bachelor of Dental Surgery degree with Honours in 2015 from the University of Zimbabwe College of Health Sciences. Whilst undertaking her internship at Harare Government Dental Centre, she completed a Masters of Business Administration degree at the National University of Science and Technology in Zimbabwe. Since 2018, Cleopatra has been undertaking multiple roles as a Government Dental Officer with the Ministry of Health & Child Care, responsible for coordination of Dental Surgery Assistant training, a Volunteer Lecturer at the Ministry School of Dental Therapy and Technology and, since 2019, a Part-Time Lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe College of Health Sciences, Department of Dentistry.

Lorna and I meet with Cleopatra for an introductory Zoom chat – lots of common interests

It was a great pleasure for Lorna and I to catch up with Cleopatra over Zoom recently. It is clear that Cleopatra is highly motivated to make a significant difference to the oral health of those living in Zimbabwe, particularly children, patients in hospital care and those with psychiatric illness. Her list of achievements to date is very impressive and shows a passionate determination to improve public sector dentistry in Zimbabwe.

The MSc in Global Health at the University of Glasgow requires each student to complete a research project and dissertation. Cleopatra is interested in studying the role of dental associations and academia in establishing oral health policies. We have pointed out that a current work stream for the MalDent Project is the development of a national oral health policy for Malawi, with major input from the Dental Association of Malawi, the University of Malawi College of Medicine and the University of Glasgow. On that basis, we would be a real-time subject for study!

It has been a real privilege to meet Cleopatra and we will be continuing our conversations and, hopefully, joint activities into the future. The challenges for oral healthcare in Zimbabwe, as related to us by Cleopatra, are common to many African countries. If we collaborate and share our ideas, working with impressive young professionals like Cleopatra, we will be able to make a real difference to the lives of many of those who currently have little or no access to either preventive measures or oral healthcare.

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