On Thursday 14 April 2022 the Malawi Government Ministry of Health launched its first National Oral Health Policy. This represented the culmination of two years of work and twenty two meetings of the Oral Health Policy Taskforce, which had been established at the Oral Health Policy Workshop held in Lilongwe in February 2020. It was a big day for all concerned and a significant event on Malawi’s journey to ‘Oral Health for All’
The launch was held at the Sunbird Capital Hotel in Lilongwe – in exactly the same venue as we had convened the initial Oral Health Policy workshop in February 2020.
Whilst the guests were assembling, they were treated to entertainment from the Health Education Band, whose members sang songs which included messages about the importance of good oral health. The following video, which will give readers a feel for the music, was provided by Dr Mwapatsa Mipando, whose role in establishing and delivering the MalDent Project, including the Oral Health Policy development, has been so crucial from the outset.
Thanks to the modern wonder of Zoom, those of us who could not attend the event in person were able to join by videoconference from our bases around the world. Dr Yuka Makino, WHO Technical Officer for Oral Health in Africa, had contacted Chief Dental Officers from a number of other African countries, who joined the launch via Zoom. Thanks are due to the technical team at Kamuzu University of Health Sciences (KUHeS), who set up the Zoom link and made it possible for a further thirty of us to join those who were present in person.
The launch was facilitated by Mr Adrian Chikumbe, who is the Ministry of Health Public Relations Officer. The event started and ended with a prayer .
The first speaker was Dr Janet Kayita, who is the WHO Country Representative in Malawi. Dr Kayita commented that she was impressed with the standard set by the policy and that Malawi’s Oral Health Policy was running ahead of the imminent WHO Global Oral Health Strategy.
The next speaker was Dr Peter Chimimba, who had been invited to provide feedback from the perspective of the MalDent Project.
As Malawian lead for the MalDent Project, Peter has been closely involved with all aspects of its work, including the establishment of the new BDS degree at KUHeS.
Peter explained the critical importance of partnership working …
… and gave a very clear account of how the various components of the MalDent Project interface with one another. The new Oral Health Policy and its embedded Implementation Plan would now provide a blueprint for the way forward.
At the conclusion of his talk, Peter invited Dr Mwapatsa Mipando, Dr James Mchenga, Miss Annie Mwapasa and the first ever cohort of BDS students, now in Year 3, to stand up so that he could introduce them to those present and thank them for all that they are doing to support oral health improvement in Malawi.
Following Dr Chimimba’s talk, there was a speech by the Chair of the Parliamentary Health Committee, Hon. Dr Matthews Ngwale MP. He advocated strongly for research in Oral Health and also stressed the importance of access to appropriate care in rural areas.
The next speaker at the lectern was Dr Jones Masiye, Deputy Director of Curative & Medical Rehabilitation Services, who presented the key elements of the policy. As Co-chair of the Taskforce, Dr Masiye had a detailed knowledge of the policy drafting and its final content. He laid out very clearly the key challenges that the policy addressed:
The Concept Paper, Narrative Review and Situation Analysis undertaken by the Oral Health Policy Taskforce in preparation for writing the policy had identified key priority areas, which then formed the seven pillars on which the strategic direction of the policy was based:
The detailed presentation of the policy by Dr Masiye set the scene for Dr Queen Dube, the Chief of Health Services, to address those present. Dr Dube had spoken previously at a Global Oral Health meeting held during the COP26 summit in November 2021 and once again showed tremendous support for oral health improvement. It was wonderful for the BDS students present to hear this strong endorsement and Dr Dube’s assurance that the Ministry of Health has created posts for them once they graduate. Dr Dube also remarked how important the strong links between KUHeS and the Ministry of Health had been to success of the Oral Health Policy development and how critical that partnership continues to be across all aspects of healthcare in Malawi.
Following Dr Dube’s talk, there was a musical interlude from the wonderful Health Education Band, who you heard in the earlier video clip.
Following the music, the presentation moved to the climax of the event – the launch of the National Oral Health Policy by Hon. Enock Phale MP, Deputy Minister for Health. Regular readers of the blog will know that the Deputy Minister trained as a Dental Therapist and subsequently became the Oral Health Coordinator in the Ministry of Health, before his election to Parliament. It was, therefore, very fitting that he should launch the Oral Health Policy! His speech included a strong commitment to support implementation of the Oral Health Policy and he thanked the Scottish Government for its support of Malawi’s work to improve the oral health of its citizens.
Following the Deputy Minister’s address, attention turned to the ribbon-cutting!
Miss Annie Mwapasa, our MalDent Project Administrator, who has worked tirelessly on all aspects of the MalDent Project, including this launch event, presented the Deputy Minister with a pair of scissors ….
… and the ribbon was cut …
To the sounds of cheering and applause, the National Oral Health Policy was declared officially launched!
After the formalities of the launch had concluded, the delegates present assembled outside for the customary group photograph.
The meeting concluded with opportunities for informal discussion and lunch.
There was significant interest in the policy launch from the national media. You can read here a report from the Malawi News Agency and below is a front page headline in The Nation newspaper:
For those who are interested in reading the Oral Health Policy and the Policy Summary Booklet, these are available below:National-Oral-Health-Policy-Vr-12-Revised-Final-PRINT-VERSION-17-03-22-1
This was a significant milestone for the MalDent Project but, more importantly, for the ongoing work within Malawi to improve the oral health of the population. The policy drafting included input from many players and benefitted significantly from the cross-sectoral partnerships involved. It is now important to maintain the momentum by pursuing actively the strategies identified in the policy. As Wilbur Ross once commented:
It’s important to have a sound idea, but the really important thing is the implementation
The foundations are in place, the building blocks are available and it’s now time to work hard towards achieving the goal of ‘Oral Health for All‘ in Malawi.