5 Aug 2014

My week in Malawi

With projects spread across the globe, international travel is part of the job for many IGH staff! Here Carolyn O'Leary tells us about her recent trip to Africa.

Beautiful Malawi

I recently spent a week in Blantyre, Malawi working for IGH. I was there for two reasons; firstly, as programme support officer for the Wellcome Trust Liverpool Glasgow Centre for Global Health Research (WTCGHR for short!), and secondly as an evaluator for Dr Melita Gordon’s THET International Health Link project.

I was primarily invited to Malawi for the second reason. I am currently completing a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree at the University, and during this I have developed my skills in qualitative research methods. I already knew Melita as she is the deputy director of the WTCGHR’s clinical PhD programme, and I had worked with her on organising the Health Link courses previously – arranging dates, flights and general logistics. It was very exciting when I was invited to build on the skills learned in the MPH and help to evaluate the courses held in Blantyre in March 2014. (To confirm, I also booked all the flights, accommodation and general logistics – there’s no getting away from admin!)

The endoscopy courses are run twice yearly at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, Blantyre (QECH) and each course aims to deliver locally-developed endoscopy therapy courses, to improve survival from upper gastrointestinal (GI) bleeds. There are several courses running each time (total duration one week), catering specifically to nurses, endoscopists and trainers in both categories. In particular the project aims to develop local capacity and independence for Malawian endoscopists and endoscopy nurses. Delegates for the courses are invited from Blantyre, Lilongwe and district hospitals, and along with support from other UK partners aims to develop a network of endoscopy in Malawi. 

Course delegates with their certificates

I carried out some participant observation during the courses, to complement the quantitative data already being collected in the form of scores for each person’s performance. I spent part of the week in the training sessions, which included hands-on skills sessions and classroom-based activities for both nurses and endoscopists, and part of the week in the Clinical Investigation Unit (CIU) at QECH observing diagnostic and therapeutic endoscopy on Malawian patients. In addition, I also carried out interviews with the nurses and endoscopists, gaining their views on the training and what they would like to see changed to improve the training experience in the future. I was taken aback by the amount of feedback I gained from the course delegates – they were incredibly enthusiastic about delivering quality endoscopy care in their hospitals, despite the barriers of lack of equipment and resources that they have. I also spoke to the international nurse and endoscopist trainers from the UK, some of whom had used their annual leave days to travel to Blantyre to train the local staff. The course delegates were also observed by Dr Damon Bizos, a consultant gastroenterologist from South Africa who spent two days with us to observe the courses and give advice to help QECH become a training centre to ensure sustainability. Dr Bizos in particular was impressed by the rigour of the courses he observed. 

Course delegates with their certificates

Whilst in Malawi I also managed to fit in some of my “real” work, that of the WTCGHR. The centre exists to support international researchers who are working at the Malawi-Liverpool-Wellcome Clinical Research Programme (MLW) which is part of QECH in Blantyre. Support includes financial (including the setting up and monitoring of research grant from Wellcome Trust), support with all aspects of moving and living overseas, and promoting researchers’ work, both overseas and in the UK. The Malawi facility is just one of several that the centre supports; other researchers are based in Vietnam, South Africa and Ecuador.

So, after several meetings about projects, many requests for assistance with various issues (from providing up-to-date budget statements to bringing home broken laptops and Malawian rice!) I completed my week in Blantyre and headed back to Liverpool. I am now armed with reams of data from the endoscopy courses to type up, and several laptops to be fixed quickly. I did however return with an insider’s knowledge of endoscopy within QECH and knowledge of the barriers to effective healthcare in Malawi. It’s most certainly a motivator! 

Carolyn O'Leary is programme support officer for the Wellcome Trust Liverpool Glasgow Centre for Global Health Research.
Follow the Centre @WTCGHR

Photo credits: Carolyn O'Leary

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