MalDent Project team members invited to deliver the Caldwell Memorial Lecture at the 2022 College of General Dentistry Scottish Study Day

The annual College of General Dentistry Study Day, held on the first Friday in December at Glasgow Science Centre, is always a very stimulating and enjoyable event. It brings together a large number of dental professionals from across Scotland, including all the Vocational Trainees. It is a great opportunity to catch up with colleagues and also to hear from recent graduates as they start out on their professional journeys.

This year, the MalDent Project team was invited to deliver the Caldwell Memorial Lecture. Robert Craig Caldwell was born in the United States but raised in Millport. He graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1950 and embarked on a career in dentistry that saw him return to America as Dean of the School of Dentistry, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

While there, he introduced the comprehensive patient care programme and encouraged the recruitment of minority and female students so that all segments of the population could be represented in the student body. He also encouraged students to seek advanced training and considered students to be his junior colleagues. After just three years in post Bob died, at the age of 46, of chronic myelogenous leukaemia. His classmates at the University of Glasgow established the Caldwell Memorial Lecture in his memory and it is delivered every year as the final session at the Study Day.

This was a tremendous honour for us. A small group was assembled to present an update on the MalDent Project’s progress and to demonstrate the benefit that collaborations and partnerships are playing in the venture.

Welcoming board at Glasgow Science Centre

We are very grateful to Robbie and Patricia Thomson, key players in the organisation of the Study Day, who had invited our participation. Following highly successful and influential careers in general practice, both are now Clinical Teaching Fellows at Glasgow Dental School, providing students with the benefit of their many years of experience in the profession.

The team comprised Stuart Bassham from Dentaid, Nigel and Vicky Milne from Smileawi, Andrew Paterson representing Bridge2Aid, and myself representing the broader MalDent Project. Stuart had to fly up from near Southampton that morning, but for the rest of us the venue was close to home.

Message from Stuart: “Good morning – the journey begins”!

The lectures at the Study Day are delivered in the iMax Theatre at Glasgow Science Centre. This is a large capacity venue, easily capable of holding the 350 delegates at the meeting:

Professor Justin Durham, Dean of Newcastle Dental School, the first speaker of the day

There is always a trade show running in parallel with the rest of the event and we were grateful to the Study Day organisers for providing us with a ‘volunteering’ stand free of charge:

The Dentaid and Smileawi banners displaying prominently at the trade show

This was a great opportunity for Nigel, Vicky and I to discuss some of the joint projects we’re involved with in Malawi and which we would be talking about during the lecture that afternoon. Later, we were also joined by Andrew.

Making good use of the face-to-face time together

Stuart arrived from Southampton just in time to enjoy lunch with us, which was a very civilised sit-down meal…

… before we headed off to the iMax Theatre to check through our slides and then back to the trade show ahead of the afternoon lectures:

Stuart speaking with one of the delegates about the many facets of Dentaid’s work

Just before we were due to deliver the Caldwell Memorial Lecture, awards were presented to a number of Vocational Trainees, including Martin Laird who had been one of the University of Glasgow students who had visited Malawi in 2019 with Smileawi and participated in the pilot child oral health survey, as well as spending some time at the University of Malawi College of Medicine.

Gillian Lennox presenting Martin Laird with his award

The Caldwell Memorial Lecture was introduced by Conor O’Malley. Conor played a pivotal leadership role over many years in developing and building up the Study Day in its original guise as the FGDP Scottish Day, before the FGDP itself was replaced by the College of General Dentistry. Conor has also been a great friend to the Glasgow Dental Alumnus Association, helping to raise large sums of money over the years. It was, therefore, a particular pleasure that he had been chosen to introduce us.

Conor O’Malley introducing the Caldwell Memorial Lecture

I opened the lecture by describing the background to the MalDent Project. The two initial principal partners were the University of Glasgow and the University of Malawi College of Medicine (now Kamuzu University of Health Sciences) who, in 2018, were jointly awarded a Scottish Government International Development grant of £1.3m over 4.5 years. The principal objectives were to establish a BDS degree programme, the first in Malawi, and to develop an Oral Health Strategy for Malawi through close working with the Ministry of Health and other key stakeholders, including the World Health Organisation.

Describing the first meeting between Ian Nicol (Scottish Government), Mwapatsa Mipando (University of Malawi College of Medicine) and Jeremy Bagg (University of Glasgow) in Malawi and the subsequent pump-priming award that heralded the start of the MalDent Project

From the outset there were multiple partners across the academic, healthcare, charitable and commercial sectors: 

The many collaborators who are supporting the MalDent Project

This presentation focused on the role played by three UK charities, Bridge2Aid, Dentaid and Smileawi and the dental supply company Henry Schein, working in collaboration with the two university partners.

The first of these partners to speak was Stuart Bassham, Dentaid’s Workshop Manager:

Dentaid covers multiple functions, both national and overseas, in its portfolio of activities. One of these is the servicing and installation of donated dental equipment and it was this particular skill that it has brought to bear on the MalDent Project. Stuart described to delegates the work that he and his team had done to replace 22 dental chairs and install 12 A-Dec phantom head units in the Dental Department at Kamuzu Central Hospital. During both installation visits to Malawi, Henry Schein had provided an engineer, free of charge – Jonathan Langley in 2018 and Chris Cox in 2022. The result of all this work was a transformation of the Dental Department with upgraded equipment, providing a suitable clinical teaching environment for the BDS students, improved working conditions for staff and an enhanced patient experience.

Following Stuart’s talk I spoke briefly about the work that had been undertaken to develop a National Oral Health Policy for Malawi. This took place between February 2020, when an Oral Health Policy Task-force was established, and the launch of the policy on 14th April 2022. Twenty-two meetings were held on-line and there were a small number of face-to-face meetings of the Malawian Task-force members. Attention has now turned to implementation of the policy, and the Study Day provided a wonderful opportunity for Nigel and Vicky Milne, the founders of the charity Smileawi, to tell the audience about the variety of activities their organisation undertakes in Malawi which support the implementation of the new policy:

As a small Scottish charity whose main aim is to help improve oral health services in Malawi, much of the work Smileawi has carried out aligns very closely to the seven pillars of the Oral Health Policy. Key to their operation is providing very important support for the existing dental therapists and by funding many of the student therapists at the Malawi College of Health Sciences. This vital sector of the dental workforce will  grow in strength and confidence and be equipped to play a major role in the Oral Health Policy implementation. The joint work of Smileawi with Bridge2Aid, described by the next speaker, provided another example of engagement with dental therapists to strengthen oral disease prevention, a key policy objective.

Bridge2Aid is another key charity partner of the MalDent Project. Andrew Paterson, one of the charity’s trustees, has been involved as a clinician with the successful emergency dentistry task-shifting programme that Bridge2Aid has delivered in Tanzania for over 15 years, and a similar model is planned in Malawi. However, Bridge2Aid, together with Smileawi and other UK and Malawian partners, has also embarked on a programme of community Oral Health Promoter training in Northern Malawi, which again maps onto the Oral Health Policy implementation plan, as Andrew described:

Phase one was a modular course delivered to Northern Malawi dental therapists remotely using the ProDental CPD platform, to upskill their oral health knowledge and to give them teaching skills to cascade key oral health messages to remote and rural areas and to disadvantaged groups. Working with the Malawian Ministry of Health and the Dental Association of Malawi ensured messages were culturally appropriate and community led. Phase two empowered the therapists to use newly acquired teaching skills to cascade train rural Oral Health Promoter volunteers who are now actively engaged in promoting oral health in schools, churches, and other community settings rurally. The course will be run in Central Malawi in 2023 and thereafter Southern Malawi to create a national network of rural Oral Health Promoters.

Oral Health Promoters at work in a variety of locations in Malawi

The presentation finished with my summarising three further ongoing work streams. These were the design and construction of a new dental clinical teaching facility on the Blantyre campus of Kamuzu University of Health Sciences, the development of a Malawian version of the Scottish Childsmile programme that would be applicable to the local environment, and a National Child Oral Health Survey planned for 2023:

In closing, I stressed again how important the multi-sectoral collaborations had been to the progress made by the overall project and, finally, thanked the audience for their attention.

Before we all left for the drinks reception, Conor presented the conference secretariat, Andrew Miller and Patricia de Vries, with gifts to thank them for yet another brilliantly organised event. Andrew has been involved with the Study Day for many years and is a great friend to many of us, myself included, so it was very sad to hear that he is retiring from his activities in organising dental meetings to focus on work at his family farm. Andrew will be greatly missed by all in the Scottish dental community and we are grateful for his many years of service.

Conor delivering his vote of thanks to Patricia and Andrew

As is the custom, the event finished with a drinks reception. Nigel is captured here catching up with his friend from University of Glasgow days, Dr Ian Mills, former Dean of the Faculty of General Dental Practice …

… and I had opportunity to meet some of the current final year students at Glasgow, who told me how much they were enjoying their outreach dental teaching and looking forward to their turn in VT next year:

It had been an excellent event for all of us. We were very grateful to the organisers of the Study Day for the opportunity to speak to such a large audience about the MalDent Project and welcome any who may be interested in joining us to get in touch.


Many of the photographs in this post were taken by Jason Kimmings, the official photographer for the event. Thanks are due to Jason for kindly granting permission to reproduce his images.

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.

Cross-border collaborative BDS Curriculum Workshop in Lilongwe

Following the National Oral Health Policy Dissemination and Implementation Workshop on 14th and 15th November, the MalDent Project team convened a two-day BDS Curriculum Workshop on 16th and 17th November that included representation from Kamuzu University of Health Sciences (KUHeS), the Copperbelt University (CBU), Zambia, Levy Mwanawasa Medical University (LMMU), Zambia and the University of Glasgow (UofG). As the KUHeS BDS programme, launched in 2019, prepares for its pioneer cohort of students to enter BDS 4 in early 2023, it is time to begin reviewing curriculum content and structure. The CBU is currently undertaking a review of its own programme and LMMU will be accepting its first students into the clinical part of the programme (BDS 3) in 2023. There are many opportunities for joint learning and collaboration between these three organisations, with potential for links with UofG and other international dental education providers.

The first session was chaired by Dr Peter Chimimba, the MalDent Project Lead at KUHeS. After introductory comments, he invited Drs Mchenga, Majambo and Sayela to provide summary overviews of the existing BDS curricula at KUHeS, CBU and LMMU respectively.

Dr Mchenga gave a very full account of the admissions process, the course structure, and the teaching and assessment methods that were employed at KUHeS, together with a summary of the various challenges that the fledgling programme was facing.

Dr James Mchenga providing an overview of the KUHeS BDS curriculum

Dr Majambo followed, and delivered a similarly comprehensive presentation. The BDS course at CBU was the first in Zambia and launched in 2011, graduating its first dentists in 2016. To date, the course has delivered more than 120 dental graduates. The course runs for six years, excluding internship, and the students do not begin their formal dental teaching until the Fourth Year. Dr Majambo also highlighted some of the challenges in course delivery, revealing a number of parallels to those identified by Dr Mchenga

Dr Majambo presenting on behalf of the Copperbelt University

We next heard from Dr Sayela about the new BDS programme at LMMU. Construction of the LMMU building began in 2016, funded by the Zambian Government, with an ambition to resolve the deficit of 50,000 members of the healthcare workforce in the country. The university has five schools (Institute of Basic & Biomedical Sciences, School of Nursing, School of Health Sciences, School of Medicine & Clinical Sciences, and School of Public Health & Environmental Science). The six-year BDS degree programme sits within the School of Medicine & Clinical Sciences and its curriculum was developed in 2020. Formal dental teaching starts in BDS 4 with an average of 30 students per year. However, there is some integration and introduction of dental topics in the earlier years. The first intake of clinical students is due in 2023. As reported in the two earlier presentations, there were challenges in relation to equipment, staffing and costs of dental materials.

Dr Sayela describing the BDS programme at Levy Mwanawasa Medical University

Whilst there were some significant differences between the three BDS curricula, there were also obvious synergies, suggesting that joint working could potentially help to ease some of the challenges being faced individually. These would be examined and discussed in detail the next day.

We had been joined for this session by Dr Emma Thomson, who has been a great friend to the KUHeS BDS programme since its inception. In her previous role as Director of the College of Medicine Education and Training Office, Emma was involved in the first and second BDS curriculum conferences, when the course was being created, and has since provided much behind-the-scenes support. In the new KUHeS structure, Emma is Acting Director of the Teaching and Learning Development Centre and she had kindly agreed to deliver a session on Clinical Assessment.

Dr Thomson introducing her topic for the day

Emma’s talk provided an excellent grounding in assessment across all of the learning domains – knowledge (cognitive), skills (psychomotor) and attitudes (affective) – including specific advice on chair side assessment. The value of feedback, delivered in a constructive and positive manner, was stressed as a way of helping students to be the best they can.

It had been a very full morning, with much food for thought, and following Emma’s lecture we were able to continue our discussions over lunch:

Emma relaxing at lunchtime with members of the MalDent Project team

Before Emma departed to join an on-line meeting in her schedule for that afternoon, we had a group photo.

Replete after lunch and ready for the afternoon session

The afternoon session, chaired by Dr James Mchenga, was devoted to a workshop on Restorative Dentistry teaching in the context of Malawi and Zambia, led by Andrew Paterson and Niall Rogerson from UofG. Despite the infrastructural challenges in Malawi for delivery of dental care, as described during the Oral Health Policy Workshop earlier in the week, the ambition is to train dentists who are ‘globally competent and locally relevant’. Ensuring that curriculum content is appropriate to this aim is very important and Restorative Dentistry is perhaps the clinical discipline which makes such decisions most difficult.

Andrew kicking off the afternoon workshop on Restorative Dentistry teaching

Andrew delivered an excellent presentation which covered all aspects of teaching in Restorative Dentistry, including biodental sciences, pre-clinical skills, laboratory skills, clinical skills and integrated care.

Following the presentation, we enjoyed an informal discussion session:

Andrew facilitating discussions following his lecture

One of the most valuable elements of this workshop was the interaction that took place during refreshment breaks. With colleagues attending from multiple universities, disciplines and career stages, there were rich opportunities for joint learning and establishment of academic links.

By close of play on the first day of the workshop we had all absorbed a lot of information and were ready to return to the hotel for a rest before dinner. As I came out to our trusty bus I caught a cameo view of Niall already seated and ready to go:

Niall in classic ‘Our Man in Havana’ pose!

One of the joys of this week of activities in Malawi was the opportunity to meet four of the six Assistant Lecturers who were able to join us. In order to thank them for their excellent input to the workshops and to acquaint ourselves better, we had invited them to join us for dinner that evening.

Dinner is served in Vincent’s Restaurant – bon appétit!

The food was obviously a highlight of the event …

… but there was also an opportunity to establish some informal mentoring for the Assistant Lecturers. Don, who is specialising in Dental Public Health, sat next to Lorna whilst Yusuf, who is specialising in Prosthodontics, sat with Andrew. As a result, both Lorna and Andrew have agreed to become external mentors for the period of Don’s and Yusuf’s specialist training. Similar external mentoring arrangements will be set up for the remaining Assistant Lecturers.

Mentors in action!

The next morning, while we were waiting for the bus, Niall spotted that one of the events scheduled in the hotel for later that day was a ‘Coca-Cola Malawi Meeting’. Lorna Macpherson, one of the UofG team, was due to deliver a lecture on the importance of preventive dentistry as a component of the BDS curriculum during our workshop, so this was an excellent photo-opportunity in real-time!

Coca-Cola and oral health – an unhappy alliance!

On arrival at Duncan’s Lodge, we launched into the morning session, which was chaired by Dr Majambo. I had agreed to lead a workshop on identifying collaborations between the parties present that could help to overcome some of the challenges in BDS course delivery identified on the previous day.

Facilitating discussions on opportunities for collaboration in BDS curriculum delivery between the schools

We structured the conversation around five initial themes, but by the end of the session that list had grown to seven:

In all of the areas listed above it was possible to identify practical, feasible and often relatively inexpensive ways in which we could all support each other to develop and deliver the three respective BDS curricula.

The morning finished with an excellent lecture by Lorna exploring the relationship and tensions between the need for teaching of preventive dentistry against a traditional historic emphasis in dental schools on operative procedures (curative dentistry).

Lorna introducing the subject matter of her lecture

Having described the preventive focus of the WHO document Promoting Oral Health in Africa and the aspirations of the 2021 World Health Assembly, Oral Health Resolution Lorna examined how these should be reflected in BDS curricula:

Lorna describing the need for integration of preventive and curative approaches in the curriculum

Upstream and downstream interventions, the concepts of Universal Health Coverage, the Basic Package of Oral Care, and the Common Risk Factor approach to prevention of Non Communicable Diseases (including common oral diseases) were all covered.

Lorna outlining upstream, midstream and downstream interventions

Lorna’s final slide tied the whole subject of the BDS curriculum back to the content of the National Oral Health Policy, since it would be the young dental graduates who would be playing a major role in policy implementation. Prevention of oral and dental disease is a corner-stone of the recently launched policy, hence its importance in the undergraduate programme.

Linking undergraduate dental education with Oral Health Policy implementation

Following Lorna’s talk we broke for lunch, when we were joined by the BDS 3 students from KUHeS. They enjoyed eating with us before attending the afternoon session.

The BDS 3 students sharing lunch with us

The afternoon proceedings were chaired by Dr Sayela, who welcomed the BDS students before introducing Andrew and myself to lead the first session.

Dr Sayela welcoming everyone to the afternoon session

The purpose of this first session was to consider innovative ways in which the capacity to deliver oral and dental care in Malawi could be augmented in the short- to medium-term and how undergraduate dental education could prepare students for playing a leadership role upon graduation.

Andrew beginning the session on integrated workforce possibilities

In his presentation, Andrew described the task shifting model that has been used in Tanzania for many years by the charity Bridge2Aid, through which Clinical Officers in very rural environments are taught to deliver emergency dentistry, including uncomplicated dental extractions. Plans are underway to pilot this model in Malawi to train Medical Assistants in a similar fashion. The task shifting approach is approved by the WHO as a mechanism to improve access to care in situations where there are severe shortages of trained workforce, a condition that is certainly fulfilled currently in relation to delivery of emergency dental care in rural Malawi. However, the concept triggered a vigorous discussion, as it had earlier in the week during the Oral Health Policy workshop, and the outcome of the pilot programme will be important to the acceptance and possible adoption of the model in Malawi.

Andrew describing the ‘task shifting’ model

The final event of the workshop was entitled ‘The Student’s Voice’ and was an open discussion with the BDS 3 students about their experience of the course. It was hosted by Dr James Mchenga in his role as Head of the BDS degree course at KUHeS:

James spoke of the importance of the students as the future dental workforce in Malawi and how critical it was that they were equipped to take forward the activities required to implement the National Oral Health Policy:

However, he also made the point that the staff team cares passionately about the welfare of the students – something that was very evident just from watching the minute-to-minute interactions between James and this pioneer group of students under his tutelage.

The open discussion provided some valuable feedback…

Questions and comments from the BDS 3 students to the staff

… and the Student President, Patrick Moses, concluded the session with a very well delivered short speech.

Patrick Moses, the President of the Dental Student Society, addressing the delegates

The workshop concluded with a summary of the activities of the past two days and a note of thanks to all involved. Once again, Annie Mwapasa and Madalitso Kaphamtengo had organised everything perfectly.

We also told the students how much we were looking forward to spending time with them on the following day at the Dental Department in Kamuzu Central Hospital, for delivery of some teaching as part of the MalDent Project Flying Faculty programme. That story will be told in the next post.

On reflection, the overwhelming memory of this two day workshop is of the passion and dedication of those entrusted with teaching the future young dentists of Malawi and Zambia. Dental education is an expensive enterprise, requiring clinical staff, complex equipment and a ready supply of dental materials, all of which are challenging to deliver reliably in low resource environments. Nevertheless, there was a palpable determination to provide the best possible opportunities for the students and to care for their welfare, particularly at this time as the cost of living crisis is impacting so significantly. It is well summed up in the following quote:

One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.

Carl Jung

Successful National Oral Health Policy Dissemination & Implementation Workshop

Regular readers of the blog will be aware that Malawi’s National Oral Health Policy, created by a Ministry of Health-led Task Force established in February 2020, was launched officially by the Deputy Minister of Health, the Honourable Enock Phale MP, on 14th April 2022.

The National Oral Health Policy launch on 14th April 2022

This was a milestone event for the MalDent Project but, as everyone knows, the true value of a policy lies not in its creation but in its successful implementation. Accordingly, the next step in the process took place on 14th and 15th November 2022 at Duncan Lodge, Lilongwe, where an Oral Health Policy Dissemination and Implementation Workshop was held. The meeting was organised jointly by the Ministry of Health and Kamuzu University of Health Sciences (KUHeS), with input from the University of Glasgow (UofG).

Over 40 delegates attended, including dentists and dental therapists from across all sectors of the profession in Malawi, Lorna Macpherson, Andrew Paterson, Niall Rogerson and myself from the University of Glasgow, Dr Mudhihiri Majambo from the Copperbelt University Dental School in Zambia and Dr Nalumino Sayela from the Levy Mwanawasa Medical University in Lusaka.

Delegates assembled on Day 1 of the workshop

The chairperson for Day 1, Brian Nyasulu from Kasungu District Hospital, opened the proceedings.

Brian Nyasulu, session chair, opened the workshop

The meeting started with a prayer, before delegates introduced themselves briefly.

Brian then asked Dr Martha Chipanda, Oral Health Coordinator at the Ministry of Health, to say a few words. Martha referred to the policy launch in April and stressed the importance of implementation, which had triggered this workshop of managers and other dental professionals from across Malawi. She spoke to the importance of the dental profession ‘owning’ the policy and working together to overcome the many challenges that were faced by oral healthcare in Malawi.

Martha makes her opening comments at the workshop

The context for oral health improvement at a global level was set out by Professor Lorna Macpherson, who is a member of The Lancet Commission on Oral Health team. Lorna was a co-author of a two-part Series of papers in The Lancet that highlighted the huge global health burden of oral diseases and the difficulties caused in tackling the problem because of isolation of oral health from other branches of healthcare. Lorna was able to lay out at first hand the key findings from The Lancet Series, identifying many principles that were directly relevant to implementation of Malawi’s new Oral Health Policy. For those who are interested, the two papers in The Lancet Series can be found here.

Lorna beginning her talk about The Lancet Series on Oral Health

Following Lorna’s excellent presentation on the high-level principles for achieving oral health improvement, Martha took the delegates through the seven key pillars of Malawi’s Oral Health Policy. In her very authentic presentation it was striking that many of the points being made by Martha chimed perfectly with Lorna’s earlier comments. The Policy Task Force had certainly followed, as far as possible, WHO recommendations for the global response to oral health challenges, to ensure that the policy would be in line with current thinking.

One of the main objectives of the workshop was to seek engagement of the delegates with the detail of the policy and, through discussion, to identify the activities that were required for its implementation. All delegates were provided with a copy of the policy, the summary document, paper, pen and water – we were expected to work, not just listen!

Martha laid out the rules of engagement. We were divided into three groups, each of which was allocated two or three of the policy pillars to discuss in detail, then to identify activities that would support progress with implementation. Each group was asked to identify a Leader and a Rapporteur.

Martha explaining the rules for the discussion groups

These were very energetic and spirited discussions which highlighted many challenges but also identified some novel approaches. It was an excellent learning experience for everyone.

A tea-break was very welcome following the first session of group work …

… after which we returned to pick up the discussions both before and immediately after lunch.

Towards the end of the afternoon, Group 3 was ready to report on Pillar 3 (Clinical Dental Practice and Patient Access) and Pillar 4 (Human Resources for Oral Health). Their rapporteur was Dr Nathan Lungu, an Assistant Lecturer at KUHeS who is specialising in Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery.

Nathan Lungu reporting for Group 3

The feedback presentation, as would subsequently be the case for Groups 1 and 2, triggered lively discussion from the floor. The potential for introduction of a task-shifting initiative, through which Medical Assistants in rural areas would be up-skilled to deliver emergency dentistry, proved especially controversial.

Day 2 of the workshop commenced with introductory comments from Dr Martha Chipanda and from Dr Jessie Mlotha- Namarika, Head of the Dental Department at Kamuzu Central Hospital.

Following an opening prayer, the session commenced with a very informative talk by Emma Mathumula from Balaka District Hospital. Her talk was entitled Current Situation of Dental Clinics in Malawi. This excellent presentation highlighted many of the daily challenges in relation to equipment and consumables that are faced by dental staff in public healthcare facilities There is a focus on dental extractions rather than restorative dentistry, but even extractions can be challenging because of inadequate instruments and stock-outs of essential items such as lignocaine.

Subsequently there was a feedback presentation from Group 2, which had considered Pillar 2 (Dental Public Health) and Pillar 7 (Research, Data and Information Management). Very appropriately, the feedback was delivered by Dr Don Chiwaya, an Assistant Lecturers at KUHeS who has chosen to specialise in dental public health.

The morning session concluded with a joint presentation by Andrew Paterson and Martha Chipanda entitled Developing a Network of Oral Health Promoters in Rural Malawi. This ongoing work is a joint activity between the Ministry of Health and the two UK charities Smileawi and Bridge2Aid. The detail has already been described in an earlier post that was guest-edited by Andrew, and relates directly to Pillar 4 of the Policy (Human Resources for Oral Health).

After such an intensive morning, we were all ready for lunch and continuing discussions outside the confines of the conference room:

Lunch al fresco

As lunch came to an end the clouds were beginning to gather and we decided to take a group photo before heading inside for the final session. Sure enough the rain started soon afterwards.

The delegates – all minds focused on implementation!

We still needed to hear from Group 1 following its deliberations about Pillar 1 (Leadership and Governance), Pillar 5 (Oral Health Financing) and Pillar 6 (Infrastructure and Equipment). This was the group in which I had participated and we had worked really hard on these three subject areas. We would have benefitted from more time, but our rapporteur, Wisdom Mkandawire from Blantyre District Hospital, produced an excellent set of feedback slides which summarised clearly the outcomes of our discussions.

Wisdom delivering the outputs from the discussions of Group 1

Finally, Martha summed up the outcomes of the two-day workshop. A summary of the implementation activities suggested by delegates during the group work sessions would be created and circulated to all those present. In addition to local use by dental professionals in the field, it would also provide a valuable tool for discussions with the Ministry of Health and other key stakeholders identified in the Policy document. In fact, the first draft was produced the following day by Wisdom and Brian and passed to Martha for review, so no time has been wasted!

Wisdom and Brian busy drafting the workshop summary document under the watchful eye of Martha!

Martha thanked all present for their participation and the Scottish Government for supporting the workshop through the MalDent Project.

Massive thanks are due to Annie Mwapasa and Madalitso Kaphamtengo who organised the event and were a constant presence over the two days, ensuring that everything ran smoothly.

Big thanks to Annie and Madalitso – great job!

It had been a very busy two days but a great start on the journey of the dental profession towards ‘owning’ its new policy and improving oral health for the citizens of Malawi.

For those of us visiting from Scotland it was a wonderful opportunity to meet such a large number of dental team members from across Malawi and to learn so much about both the challenges and opportunities that exist for the profession and the population. The chance opportunities afforded by face-to-face events such as this cannot be over-stated. I met Tifley Thimba from Salima District Hospital who is not only a dental therapist, but also has a degree in biomedical engineering. Tifley has kindly agreed to work with Stuart Bassham (Dentaid), Chris Cox (Henry Schein) and I on the project we are undertaking to develop training materials on dental equipment maintenance and repair for therapists in the field with poor access to technical support.

Enjoying a fruitful discussion with Tifley – a new recruit to the MalDent Project team!

Lorna had the opportunity to meet with Fred Sambani, the Country Director of Teethsavers International, who will be a very important contact as our workstream on child caries prevention develops:

Fred and Lorna sharing experiences of child oral health improvement programmes

There is much work to do as the MalDent Project progresses, but what was very clear during this workshop was the abundance of talent and enthusiasm among the dental professionals present to take forward the policy implementation. It will require additional, focused investment to ensure that this willing team is able to achieve the ambitions outlined in the Policy, but if that can be provided then the future holds significant promise for success.

University of Glasgow Vice-Chancellor visits Kamuzu University of Health Sciences

November 2022 was a very busy month for face-to-face interactions between University of Glasgow staff and their partners at Kamuzu University of Health Sciences. Following the restrictions that had prevented such activities during the COVID-19 pandemic, it was wonderful to be able once again to enjoy the fellowship and informal academic interactions that are so much more difficult through video-conferencing. The subsequent two posts will reflect some activities of the MalDent Project during the week beginning 14th November. However, this separate introductory post provides an important preface.

In early November, the University of Glasgow Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, visited Malawi, accompanied by Miss Rachel Sandison, Deputy Vice-Chancellor – External Engagement & Vice Principal – External Relations. During the busy itinerary at Kamuzu University of Health Sciences, Sir Anton delivered a public lecture entitled: The role of universities as drivers of sustainable development within communities and on a global stage. The support of the senior leaders of both the University of Glasgow (UofG) and Kamuzu University of Health Sciences (KUHeS) for development of the strong academic partnership that has developed between the two organisations reflects, in a very tangible way, the subject matter of the public lecture.

That relationship between the two universities was further strengthened by the signing of a formal MOU during the visit:

Professor Macpherson Mallewa and Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli signing the MOU between the two universities

One of the main events during the visit was the official opening of the Blantyre-Blantyre Laboratory, the culmination of a joint UofG / KUHeS infrastructure project, which will deliver world-class biomedical laboratory facilities at KUHeS. This will support, in a sustainable way, future scientific collaborations with the University of Glasgow and other academic and industrial partners. The Blantyre-Blantyre project began just before the MalDent Project commenced, and the team has been extremely supportive to us, often helping us to problem-solve as we hit challenges that the Blantyre-Blantyre Project had already encountered and resolved! It is wonderful to see all their hard work coming to fruition and the joint official opening of the facility being shared by the Vice-Chancellors of both universities:

Ribbon cutting by the two Vice-Chancellors

Whilst at KUHeS, there were also opportunities for Sir Anton to hear and see at first hand some of the ongoing work of the MalDent Project. He was able to meet with Dr Peter Chimimba, our Malawi Project Lead and Dr James Mchenga, Academic Head of the BDS degree programme:

Peter (second from left) and James (second from right) with the main delegation

There was opportunity for discussion of UofG / KUHeS collaborations …

… and time was included for a visit to the Dental Department at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Blantyre ….

Arriving at the Dental Department

… where Peter and James were able to provide information on our MalDent Project activities and progress:

For those of us engaged in collaborative projects between the UofG and KUHeS, this visit was a very powerful symbol of the support that exists for our work at the highest levels of each organisation. That support is of immense value as we go about our day-to-day partnership working.

This post would not be complete without some important acknowledgements. On behalf of the MalDent Project team, I would like to congratulate all colleagues involved in the Blantyre-Blantyre Project on the successful completion and opening of the laboratory. We have seen the immense efforts you have put into this complex project and have been the beneficiaries of much of your hard-won learning along the way! Particular thanks are due to Alex Mackay, who has not only provided us with many words of wisdom and encouragement, but also supplied me with some of the photographs for this post.

Finally, there are two common threads to the Blantyre-Blantyre project and the MalDent Project. The first is Dr Mwapatsa Mipando, a true visionary whose drive, determination and strategic thinking have been central to both projects.

Mwapatsa on a recent visit to Scotland, discussing horticulture with MalDent team member Niall Rogerson

Secondly, we are immensely grateful for the generous funding from the Scottish Government, which has transformed both projects from dreams to reality. Moving forward we will work hard to ensure that the legacy of the financial support is sustainable and in keeping with the Scottish Government’s International Development Principles.

UK adventures for a Malawian dental therapist – a dream visit realised.

Guest blog written by Lisa Taylor and Edward Hara

The MalDent Project has drawn together many people since its inception.  Below is a brief overview of the web of connections which brought about this exciting visit to the UK for Edward Hara, a very hard working dental therapist, now based in Chitipa, in the north of Malawi.

  • Lisa undertook an MSc with Jeremy Bagg in his Cardiff days (1983-1991).
  • Lisa also spent two years in St John’s Hospital, Mzuzu, Malawi as a VSO volunteer from 1992 to 1994 where she met Edward.
  • Jeremy has been instrumental in setting up the MalDent Project and has met Edward Hara on several occasions.
  • Edward and Jeremy are friends of Nigel and Vicky Milne, who founded Smileawi, a Scottish charity which operates in the North of Malawi and has worked closely with the MalDent Project.

Lisa always hoped to be able to bring one of her Malawian colleagues to the UK for a visit and given Edward’s many friends in the UK, a plan was made for him to visit both Scotland and England.  Smileawi hosts an annual fundraising Ceilidh in October and Lisa is involved with the annual British Dental Association Community Dental Service Conference and so this was chosen as the time for his visit. 

The initial hurdle to overcome was getting a passport and a visa.  This necessitated letters of invitation and support and brought with it a lot of stress and visits to Lilongwe for Edward.  Finally, the documents were all sorted which brought relief all round.  The excitement really began when he received his tickets. 

Edward would very much like to share with you his photo diary and thoughts about his visit:  

27.9.22.  I was supported by my family to get to the airport in good time – I arrived 4 hours ahead of time, I really did not want to miss this plane!

I boarded the Ethiopian Airlines flight – the trip was really on!  The flight was smooth with a touchdown in The Congo and a stopover in Addis Ababa.

28.9.22.  I finally arrived in Heathrow early the next day.  Lisa met me at the airport and drove me home on a sunny autumnal morning.

29.9.22.  After a relaxing first day we visited the Abbey Ruins in Reading and looked round Lisa’s home town by the Thames:

30.9.22.  On the Friday, we headed off towards The North and spent a lovely evening with Chris’s mum, Teresa, in Gateshead.  Chris, Lisa’s husband, had spent 3 years as a VSO in Lilongwe training laboratory technicians, and Teresa and Chris’s late dad Bob, had visited him in Malawi.  It was lovely to meet Teresa who was pleased to see us and to chat about her time in Malawi.

1.10.22.  The next day we started up to Scotland.  En route we visited The Angel of the North, and I found it hard to imagine how this huge structure could stay upright.

We then visited Hexham and went for a look round the Abbey, which was beautiful.  It was the first time I had seen a tomb within a church; it also seemed strange that they had a café in a church.  We looked round the town and my love of charity shops began.

Inside Hexham Abbey

We travelled on to Dunoon passing some beautiful English and Scottish countryside en route.  I did not like the idea of the ferry crossing as I cannot swim.  However, it was a very steady trip over and we arrived safely on the other side.

On board the ferry from Gourock to Dunoon

We easily found the Milne’s home and received a warm welcome.  A large group was gathered and we all ate a lovely meal together before heading off to the Ceilidh by coach.  The Ceilidh was great fun and I threw myself into this famous dance!

With Nigel Milne and Annibale Coia before the ceilidh

2.10.22.  Lisa and Chris headed back home the following day and my Scottish adventure began.  Thank you to Nigel and Vicky’s friend, John Challis, for taking me to the church service today and for his company after the service.

3.10.22.  An interesting visit to the David Livingstone Museum, just outside Glasgow, accompanied by good friends. 

With Nigel, Vicky and Jeremy at the David Livingstone Museum in Blantyre

I felt lucky to see the beautiful Loch Lomond:

4.10.22. I enjoyed looking around the University of Glasgow campus.

Inside the University of Glasgow Chapel

I also had an informative visit to Glasgow Dental Hospital and Postgraduate Centre:

5.10.22.  We had a great trip on the open top bus tour of Edinburgh.  Here I am on Waverley Bridge shortly after we arrived at Edinburgh Waverley Station:

I was also shown a lovely view of the city from Calton Hill:

6.10.22.  En route from Glasgow to London.  I was seen off by Vicky and met by Chris.

With Vicky on Glasgow’s Subway en route to Glasgow Central Station

7.10.22.  More walking beside the Thames at Pangbourne.  I was very lucky with the weather!

8.10.22.  An insight into the work of the Berkshire Community Dental Service at the Royal Berkshire Hospital.  Thank you to those who made this experience possible and enjoyable.  What a great selection of cakes we had!

With the dental team at the Royal Berkshire Hospital

9.10.22. An introduction to the National Trust at Basildon Park:

10.10.22.  Lisa and I took a walking tour of Oxford.  We saw lots of the colleges and also people punting on the river:

11.10.22.  I visited all the local Community Dental Service Clinics – it was lovely to meet so many of those who have assisted me over the years.  The day also included a trip to Dinton Pastures Nature Reserve:

13.10.22 and 14.10.22.  British Dental Association Community Dental Service Conference.  There were some great lectures – I learnt so much:

13.10.22.  Meeting an old friend at the Conference dinner.  Jeremy gave an interesting after dinner talk about the MalDent Project.

15.10.22.  The parks, pomp and pubs of London – cheers to Chris for the guided tour:

It was inspiring to see the statue of John Chilembwe, who fought for Malawian independence, which is now on a plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square:

16.10.22.  Church in the morning and then my first cinema trip to see The Woman King, a film based on a true story of an old African kingdom.  Very enjoyable.

17.10.22.  I spent a day at Dentaid with Lisa who was working in a mobile clinic supporting the homeless.  Here I am with Stuart Bassham outside Dentaid HQ in Southampton:

19.10.22.  Portsmouth – my first time to see the sea and to experience the invigorating sea breeze!

20.10.22.  Windsor.  What an amazing castle!

21.10.22.  A visit to the London Museums – Natural History and The Science Museum:

22.10.22.  Reading FC – they won 2:0.  I enjoyed cheering on the team with the supporters:

With Lisa and her son Oliver at Reading Football Club

23.10.22.  The day I flew home to the warm heart of Africa.

Thoughts from Lisa

It has been a pleasure to have Edward visit and to introduce him to my dental colleagues.  Over the years these colleagues have ‘adopted’ Edward and have generously supported him in his endeavours in Malawi.  They were so pleased to meet him and found it interesting to hear about his life and dentistry in Malawi.  I think they could not quite comprehend the amount and complexity of the work he undertakes.  I was so proud to call him my friend and at how well he coped with meeting so many new people.

I do hope Edward has enjoyed his visit.  As the photo diary confirms, he has certainly seen a lot!  I do wonder how such an experience will affect him on his return.  To see all we have here through the eyes of someone from Malawi has been challenging at times.  He has commented on the number of skips outside peoples’ houses with so many reusable items thrown away.  Upcycling is clearly embedded in Malawi.

Thank you to Edward for taking time away from his home and family to visit.  Thank you also to Nigel, Vicky, Jeremy and their friends for giving Edward such a wonderful experience of Scotland.

Yewo chomene for your visit Edward.  See you soon!

Thoughts from Edward

All in all, my coming to UK has been a dream changer.  Being on a plane, trains, wide green open rolling hills, all looked new to me and a strange experience.

One example is the payment systems; most of them are electronic, which is not existing in most systems in Malawi.

The historical structures and places I have seen and touched have also really complemented what I had learnt previously in school.  A worthwhile experience. Museums, famous rivers, universities and many other beautiful, attractive places have