Letter from Wits University – great progress for young Malawian dental academics

One of the major challenges facing any newly established undergraduate dental surgery programme is identification of the teaching faculty. In this regard, the new BDS course in Malawi has been very fortunate to have recruited Dr James Mchenga as the founding academic head and Drs Jessie Mlotha-Namarika and Wiston Mukiwa as experienced clinical lecturers.

There remains, however, a need to identify young dentists who are keen to pursue academic careers and to become the dental teachers and researchers of the future. Consequently it has been very exciting to see the appointment of four Assistant Lecturers onto the staff team. They are currently all attending masters degree programmes at Wits University in Johannesburg and this post has been written with their cooperation, as a means of introducing them formally to readers of the MalDent blog.

Wits University, Johannesburg, South Africa

The School of Oral Health Sciences at Wits University is based in the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital and is a joint member of the Faculty of Health Sciences and the Gauteng Department of Health. In addition to its 5 year undergraduate Bachelor of Dental Science and 3 year Bachelor of Oral Health Sciences courses, the School runs a range of Masters and PhD programmes.

Throughout the preparations for establishing and delivering a BDS programme in Malawi, the School of Oral Health Sciences at Wits University has been a very important source of advice and support, particularly in respect of the curriculum development. Professor Simon Nemutandani, the Dean of the Wits School of Oral Health Sciences, was a very significant player during the second curriculum conference we held in November 2018 and also provided valuable help to the local team both before and after that conference.

Professor Simon Nemutandani (centre) in conversation with Professor Dixie Banda (left) and Dr Peter Chimimba (right) during the second BDS Curriculum Conference at Mangochi in November 2018

So, without further ado it is a pleasure to introduce the four Assistant Lecturers who are now working hard on their studies at Wits University.

Dr Mirriam Chipinga is studying towards a masters degree in Orthodontics and Dr Tasneem Chikwatu is pursuing her masters in Restorative Dentistry. Mirriam and Tasneem both arrived in Johannesburg ahead of their two colleagues.

Mirriam and Tasneem sent the following message:

After all the challenges we had in Malawi with our visa applications, we finally were able to travel to South Africa for our studies. We got here on February 5, but we moved to a new place after a month. We settled very well although we had some pressure trying to balance between settling in and studies because we got here two days before commencement of our studies and we started processing our moving to a new place almost right away.

The other challenge was that it was our first time having to study online (we still are, due to the Covid-19 pandemic) but it’s all good now, we have gotten used to it.

Things are going on well so far. Our studies are being conducted online. We are learning not only our course of study at a deeper level, but new ways of studying. For example, the way our programme has been planned (changes made to adapt to the current Covid situation) has taught us to be creative and proactive which we believe will make things easier for us if implemented when we get back home in Malawi.

We do not go out except for morning jogs and sometimes for grocery shopping, so we are mostly indoors. We just finished block 3 classes on Friday, and have started with assessments.” 

Mirriam and Tasneem out to do the shopping

Next, we can introduce Dr Nathan Lungu, who is studying for a masters degree in Oral Surgery:

Nathan at work on his laptop compute

Nathan sent the following message:

“First I would to take this opportunity to thank the management of Malawi College of Medicine and the MalDent Project for offering me a full scholarship to study Masters of Science in Oral Surgery at Witwatersrand University in South Africa, so that I can have more knowledge to impart to the Bachelor of Dentistry students after I graduate.

Currently I am in my first year; this is the third month since schools were opened on 8th February. So far so good, lessons are going on well. My knowledge is being increased day by day as I attend the class sessions and study. I hope by the end of my Masters I will have more knowledge in dentistry than the time I came here at the University of Witwatersrand.

Of course challenges are there; without challenges there is no life. The most challenge I have encountered is due to the coronavirus pandemic, whereby lessons are done virtually without face to face contact, hence we don’t engage much with our lecturers.”

Finally, we introduce Dr Don Chiwaya, who is studying for a masters degree in Community Dentistry:

Don at his desk

Don sent the following message:

“I arrived on 26 February 2021 having delayed for almost a month due to a positive Covid 19 test. I was so anxious as I could not know when I will depart for school. I did the test several times and when it finally came negative I was so happy as I did not want to miss again this academic year. On arrival, I did registration, and fortunately it was extended, I believe to give an opportunity to people like me.

Don attending registration on the main campus

Dr Tasneem Chikwatu and Dr Miriam Chipinga oriented me on how to go about life in Johannesburg – many thanks to them.

Don enjoying a visit to Pretoria’s Union Buildings, with Nelson Mandela’s statue in the background

Finally now I am settling in well attending to classes and assessments. Due to the pandemic most of our work is done online and we are ever in doors. What I miss most is the physical interaction with my colleagues as I believe we would share and learn better experiences on oral health issues across Africa and maybe even across the world. But as for now will go with this ‘new normal’ as we wait for the return of the ‘NORMAL’

Nelson Mandela spoke on many occasions about the importance of education to individuals and countries. He once said:

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

On another occasion he said:

“Young people must take it upon themselves to ensure that they receive the highest education possible so that they can represent us well in the future as future leaders.”

Mirriam, Tasneem, Nathan and Don have all accepted the opportunity they have been given to further their education to enhance the teaching they will deliver to future generations of dental students in Malawi and to become future leaders of their profession in the country. As the Malawi Government Ministry of Health prepares to launch its new Oral Health Policy and Implementation Plan later this year, the timing could not be be more appropriate for investment in developing keen young clinical academics to play their role in Malawi’s exciting oral health improvement agenda.

One thought on “Letter from Wits University – great progress for young Malawian dental academics

  1. Best of luck to all these young professionals in their studies and well done to the Maldent project, the future of dentistry in Malawi is looking good

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