A Flying Faculty finale to a busy week in Malawi

The week of 14th-18th November 2022 was a very busy one for the MalDent Project. As the two previous posts describe, we held a workshop on the dissemination and implementation of the National Oral Health Policy on 14th and 15th November, and a workshop to review and discuss BDS curriculum content and delivery on 16th and 17th November.

The final day of the week was spent with the BDS 3 students, delivering face-to-face teaching. It was a very uplifting experience.

As had become normal practice during the week, the Scottish and Zambian team members met early for breakfast, which allowed time for some relaxed informal discussion and preparation for the day ahead. At dinner on the previous evening there had been some discussion between Niall and Dr Sayela about ties. As it happened, I had a University of Glasgow tie with me which I was delighted to present to Dr Sayela as a memento of a highly collaborative week which we hope will lead to further partnership working.

Dr Sayela receiving his University of Glasgow tie

En route to Kamuzu Central Hospital we had an opportunity to visit the adjacent Lilongwe Campus of Kamuzu University of Health Sciences. The blossoms on the flowering trees were beautiful:

Whilst on the campus we took the opportunity for a quick photograph at the entrance into the main building:

All smiles from UofG, CBU and LMMU at KUHeS!

Following the very short drive from the university campus to the Dental Department at Kamuzu Central Hospital we met with the BDS 3 students who had attended the curriculum workshop held the previous day.

The teaching commenced with a case-based discussion focusing on a 14 year old teenager who had presented with a fractured upper incisor tooth. Every aspect of the patient’s management from history taking and examination through gaining consent and determining a treatment plan were covered.

Next on the agenda was an introduction to dental veneers. This was in preparation for the next stage of the morning which would be spent in the pre-clinical skills simulation facility.

Andrew leading the case-based discussion

The engagement of the students was superb and their eagerness to learn was demonstrated by their willingness to participate in the discussions and their recording of copious notes.

Close attention being paid as the case-based discussion develops

The level of knowledge displayed by the students was outstanding for their stage on the course, especially considering that their first two years and a significant part of Year 3 had focused on biomedical and medical subjects. We congratulated them on their achievements to date, which were truly impressive.

Following this initial session, the students moved to the pre-clinical skills facility to participate in a practical session that entailed preparing an anterior tooth to receive a veneer. Niall and Andrew demonstrated the method of preparation ….

Niall demonstrating to his group of students the do’s and don’ts of preparing a tooth for a veneer, watched by Yusuf, one of the Assistant Lecturers

….before the students took up their own dental handpieces to practise the skill:

Niall providing further guidance as the students get started

Andrew looked after a second group of students:

It was good to see the tablet computers that had been purchased with Scottish Government MalDent Project funding being put to good use by the students …

… and this was a great opportunity for Lorna and I to have some informal conversations with the students:

One issue we identified was that the compressor which drives the twelve simulation units overheats quickly when all are being used simultaneously. We plan to overcome this problem in the New Year by the installation of two new compressors which will have the additional power needed for simultaneous use of all the simulators.

Outside the pre-clinical skills facility was the poster that had been printed and displayed for the visit by Ben Macpherson MSP in 2018. At that stage none of the A-dec simulators or the new cabinetry were in place. Seeing the equipment in use by the students was a wonderful experience and put into perspective the critical importance of the progress made by the MalDent Project in collaboration with Dentaid and Henry Schein in May 2019 and March 2022.

The ‘historical’ poster

Whilst Niall and Andrew continued to work with the students, Lorna and I spent some time in the office of Dr Jessie Mlotha-Namarika, the Dental Surgeon in charge of the KCH facility, who also coordinates the BDS 3 programme. Lorna and I were working our way through the spreadsheet of actions that had been drafted by Wisdom and Brian following the National Oral Health Policy implementation workshop earlier in the week. It was extremely useful having Jessie close by when we had questions to ask about local issues or needed explanations of acronyms that are commonly used in the Malawian healthcare system.

Jessie at her desk

At about 2.30pm we were joined by Niall and Andrew. In addition to their time with the students Andrew had also delivered some CPD for the Assistant Lecturers.

The Flying Faculty activities continued in the afternoon, with teaching delivered by our Zambian colleagues. This was a good example of the type of South-South collaboration that could be mutually beneficial for all of the dental schools moving forward.

Dr Majambo delivering teaching on management of medical emergencies in dentistry

There had already been a number of instances throughout the week where the inter-relationship between the National Oral Health Policy and the BDS course was evident. Another example was the polo shirts that have been designed for the students to publicise the policy. One of the students, Felix Nandolo, wore the shirt to the teaching session and it was too good an opportunity to miss a photo shoot!

Once the teaching was concluded, we returned to the hotel, where Andrew and I had one final task to complete. We are both Trustees of the charity Bridge2Aid, which has been one of the partners with Smileawi, ProDental CPD, the Dental Association of Malawi, and the Malawi Government Ministry of Health in the ongoing project to train Oral Health Promoters in rural Malawi. One of the main areas of feedback from the Oral Health Promoters is that they would be able to share their new knowledge far more widely if they had bicycles to transport them between villages. In seeking a way forward, we had come across the charity World Bicycle Relief, which includes Malawi in its sphere of operation.

Following initial enquiries by the Bridge2Aid staff team, it was agreed that Anthony Kinnaird, the Malawi Country Director for World Bicycle Relief, would be able to meet Andrew and I that Friday evening in Lilongwe. It was a great chance for the three of us to share in detail the activities of the organisations involved and to discuss possibilities for a partnership project. We had an excellent conversation and the outcome is that a Zoom meeting with Anthony and the CEO of World Bicycle Relief, Allison Dufosee, will be scheduled for early 2023.

Andrew providing Anthony with a detailed description of the Oral Health Promoter project

On this last evening in Lilongwe, we all shared a very enjoyable meal and mulled over the events of the past week. It had been busy and intense, but much had been achieved and we had established a strong working relationship between the four universities represented. The foundations for collaboration have been firmly established and it is now up to us as the partners to ensure the good work continues.

Enjoying dinner before heading home the next day

Andrew, Lorna, Niall and I had a relatively relaxed start to Saturday, as our flight from Lilongwe was not scheduled until early afternoon. At the allotted time our bus arrived to take us on the short journey to Kamuzu International Airport.

Heading to the airport to start our 26 hour journey home

Our passage through security and passport control was very efficient and our plane arrived on time, allowing punctual boarding and departure.

Boarding the Airbus A350 at Kamuzu International Airport

Our routing to Addis Ababa was via Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of Congo…

… where we spent an hour on the tarmac while some passengers disembarked, others joined and the plane took on fuel.

Re-fuelling in Lubumbashi

As a result, our trip back from Lilongwe to Addis Ababa took considerably longer than it had on the direct outward journey a week earlier.

We had some time to kill in Addis Ababa but again boarded on time for the flight to Frankfurt, where we arrived very early on Sunday morning. Weary from the overnight flight, we found a lovely restaurant called Goethe which rustled up a wonderful breakfast that soon had us feeling human again:

Scrambled eggs and coffee that hit the spot!

The final short flight from Frankfurt to Glasgow passed swiftly and we were soon back home in Scotland.

I commented in the previous post about the dedication and commitment of the staff in both Malawi and Zambia, who were delivering the best educational experience they could for the dental students in their charge. What the Flying Faculty activities on the Friday had confirmed for me was that the BDS 3 students at KUHeS are also exceptional. Despite the challenges that have been faced over the past year, including delays in access to textbooks and consumable materials for use in the pre-clinical skills teaching, the knowledge they displayed was remarkable. Furthermore, their mature, professional approach on both the Thursday afternoon and Friday was a credit to themselves, to their teachers and to KUHeS. With this combination of staff and students there is every reason to be very optimistic for the future.

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