research

February 9, 2018 – Volunteer blog from Malawi

Blantyre KCN campus – Gertrude Mwalaba and Gibson, Dean of Research

My goodness – our third and final week in Malawi! Our work with the Kamuzu College of Nursing (KCN) faculty, students and key stakeholders has flown by.

This past week, Pammla and I divided our energies. Pam assisted individual faculty members, doctoral students and small groups with individual manuscripts and grant proposals; nine manuscripts and at least three grants were reviewed and critiqued. In contrast, Dean Gertrude, Dean of Research Gibson, and I left Monday afternoon to spend two days at the Blantyre Campus of KCN. It was a drive of over 400 kilometers (one way) on a two-lane highway that runs through many villages. Our capable driver Peter deftly threaded his way through the countryside.

Cows have the right of way

Still, I found it a hair-raising journey, as the villagers – men, women and children and livestock – travel both narrow shoulders of the highway until well after dark. With many pedestrians, bicycles, heavy rain, and the oncoming headlights of rumbling lorries, it was more than challenging. Oh, and did I mention that in Malawi one drives on the left-hand side of the road?

Tuesday morning dawned bright and fresh. The Blantyre campus proved to be a pastoral miniature of the Lilongwe Campus. We proceeded to enjoy a delightful all-day workshop, primarily with KCN master’s students. Together, we identified a compelling research interest area related to the developing roles and responsibilities of Malawian birth companions, and then developed a scoping review of the literature in the morning, and a related grant proposal in the afternoon. I have worked with many graduate students in my time, but this was one of the most engaged and appreciative groups I have ever worked with. Energizing!

Wednesday, Gertrude and I met with the Blantyre faculty to discuss their scholarly interests, issues related to the inclusion of knowledge users in research, the advantages of working in research groups, and issues pertaining to the balance between faculty teaching and research. Clearly, the struggle to balance workload is an international issue we share. In Malawi, where faculty members, nurses and midwives are in short supply, finding that balance is even more daunting.

Traditional Malawian musicians under the mahogany tree

Our final two days were devoted to numerous external stakeholder consultations as we sought to ground KCN’s scholarship more firmly within the context of Malawi’s developing health and health human resource priorities. Our visits included meeting with the Principal, Malawi College Health Sciences, the Department Head of Environmental Health, University of Malawi Polytechnic, and a repeat visit to the National Director of Nursing Midwifery, where we compared and discussed, in far more detail, the emergent health and health human resources priorities of Malawi.
Dr. Pammla Petrucka and I were honoured to have this opportunity to work with KCN and KCN’s stakeholders, to help them build nursing scholarship and research capacity. We were impressed by the passion, knowledge, skills and experience we found here and we will continue to review grant proposals and manuscripts for our Malawian friends upon our return to Canada. We salute our new friends and colleagues for their passion and commitment in the face of challenges far beyond the experience of most Canadians. On behalf of KCN, Dean Gertrude, Pammla and I, we want to formally thank Academics Without Borders for this wonderful opportunity.

In closing, it has become clear to us that nursing research, including student research, is a rare and precious resource in Malawi! It is imperative that it is focused upon the most pressing patient, family and community health and health system challenges. And, it is equally important that research teams engage with patients, families and communities, and with health system and government knowledge users, to help guide scholarship that produces practical and affordable solutions that can and will be taken up by the Malawi health system.


Martha E. (Beth) Horsburgh, RN, PhD has provided academic nursing and research leadership in three Canadian provinces. Her scholarship is typified by practical community and health system partnerships designed to tackle recurrent health challenges faced by patients, families and communities in Canada and around the world.

Joining the Academics Without Borders family of volunteers has enabled Beth and her colleague Dr. Pammla Petrucka, to work alongside the nursing faculty at Kamazu College of Nursing, University of Malawi, to address local health challenges through sustainable research partnerships.

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February 2, 2018 – Volunteer blog from Malawi

Celebrating a faculty member’s birthday.

Our second week in Malawi has been characterized by a hands-on approach to the ongoing research capacity building we are doing together here at Kamuzu College of Nursing (KCN). Monday and Tuesday, we all rolled up our sleeves and worked through two days of research workshops with the faculty, some students and other invited stakeholders. Dr. Gertrude Mwalabu and a few of our other champions helped Dr. Pammla Petrucka and I lead the workshops using two research topics and their respective research teams as examples.

The first research team will carry out a program of research designed to better understand women’s community-based experiences in the year following surgical repair of an obstetrical fistula. The second team, led by Dr. Mwalabu, will carry out a program designed to understand the community-based experiences of young women and men (aged 19-24), as they work to meet their continuing health challenges related to HIV and HIV treatments, while also meeting the unique developmental challenges of young adulthood.

Research Interactive Workshop.

As the week progressed, Pammla and I split up, and each of us worked primarily with one of the research teams. KCN’s librarians, Kondwani and Patrick, supported the teams, and together each team worked to refine their research goals, objectives and research questions, while also identifying requirements for scoping reviews of the relevant published literature. As it turned out, each team identified two scoping reviews and two research studies that they planned to conduct together.

KCN librarian leads workshop group on through application of online query and use of search terms.

Using the grant format of the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation, the teams developed the four grant outlines. Working together they also developed the on-line queries for the scoping reviews. All participants were actively engaged in decision-making regarding search terms and search parameters. And, as the on-line results of the queries came in, participants were able to see in real time how decisions regarding their search parameters influenced the quality and manageability of the resulting articles that were retrieved. As we worked through the grant proposals, participants saw how iterative the work was – as we worked back and forth to ensure that the research goals and objectives aligned perfectly with the research questions – and vice versa.

At the end of the week, one of the two groups declared its intention to continue work on its scoping reviews independently (i.e., without Pammla and I). The group members felt confident in applying their inclusion and exclusion data retrieval criteria, using the data extraction tool that they had developed. Dr. Petrucka and I are excited to review their progress with them next week.


Martha E. (Beth) Horsburgh, RN, PhD has provided academic nursing and research leadership in three Canadian provinces. Her scholarship is typified by practical community and health system partnerships designed to tackle recurrent health challenges faced by patients, families and communities in Canada and around the world.

Joining the Academics Without Borders family of volunteers has enabled Beth and her colleague Dr. Pammla Petrucka, to work alongside the nursing faculty at Kamazu College of Nursing, University of Malawi, to address local health challenges through sustainable research partnerships.

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January 26, 2018 – Volunteer blog from Malawi

Kamuzu College of Nursing’s Directorate of Nursing and Midwifery with Beth (on the right)

Our first week in Malawi has been very busy, and the Dean of Nursing, Kamuzu College of Nursing (KCN), Dr. Gertrude Mwalabu, Dr. Pammla Petrucka and I feel that we have exceeded our expectations and plan of work!

Dean Gertrude and her husband kindly picked us up at the Lilongwe airport and saw that we were settled into our hotel accommodations. After a refreshing night’s sleep we had our first meeting with the Dean and other KCN formal and research leaders. We examined the four research pillars that KCN has identified: vulnerable populations; primary health care in Malawi; quality of care; and health reforms and innovations. Through kind and candid engagement, it was clear that KCN were seeking practical, sustainable assistance to build their research momentum. While some individuals and small groups had experienced success with individual grants and publications, all embraced the idea of working more effectively in research teams.

In this spirit, we worked with 11 of KCN’s Research Champions all day Tuesday. As senior research mentors to junior faculty and students, the champions included those in formal leadership roles and senior faculty members. While our work together included basics related to grantsmanship and publication, we moved beyond these to discuss principles of working effectively in teams; research mentorship; and engagement with knowledge users and policy makers and the patients/clients, families and communities where KCN hoped to impact the quality of care. We also identified opportunities to engage community “traditional leaders” – respected traditional knowledge keepers who play an important role in the health of Malawi communities where 80% of the population lives in the rural area.

Wednesday, the champions came together with junior faculty content experts. Using the grant format of the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation, we worked together to develop the grant outline using one of KCNs areas of interest – the experience of care of women with obstetric fistulae. By the end of the day, the outline had been completed using two research questions that would permit the champions to divide their efforts and mentor two semi-separate research teams examining different aspects of the same population of interest – thus, taking advantage of the recruitment of one cohort of participants. Practicality, focus, efficiency, and sustainability were our mantra, as we recognized the need to use KCN’s precious research resources wisely! Next week we will be supporting the champions to offer a two-day research workshop to all of the KCN faculty, some graduate students, and community stakeholders.

Beth with the Nurses and Midwives Council of Malawi

For the remainder of our first week we worked with Dean Gertrude to further develop her already impressive stakeholder network. We listened carefully for stakeholders’ health knowledge priorities, while seeking and affirming their willingness to engage with and support KCN’s developing scholarship. We met with the National Director of Nursing and Midwifery Services and her leadership team, the Registrar and CEO of the Nurses and Midwives Council of Malawi and her team, and the three Directors of National Commission for Science and Technology. All are willing to support KCN’s developing research programs and they confirmed the importance of KCN’s four research pillars and team-based research model. Indeed, some of these stakeholders will now be joining us for the two-day training workshop next week!

Week one closed with a tour of the Lighthouse – a patient-centred, one-stop-service for individuals with HIV. With infrastructure support from Germany and operating funding from the Centres for Disease Control in the USA, this amazing facility has provided compassionate, quality care to this vulnerable population since 2001. This dedicated team of health professionals also provides corollary health services, so that almost all of the individual’s health needs can be met in the one location (the centre has adopted ‘one stop shop’ type of delivering health services).


Martha E. (Beth) Horsburgh, RN, PhD has provided academic nursing and research leadership in three Canadian provinces. Her scholarship is typified by practical community and health system partnerships designed to tackle recurrent health challenges faced by patients, families and communities in Canada and around the world.

Joining the Academics Without Borders family of volunteers has enabled Beth and her colleague Dr. Pammla Petrucka, to work alongside the nursing faculty at Kamazu College of Nursing, University of Malawi, to address local health challenges through sustainable research partnerships.

Read more

Non-African partners influence research agenda – Study

This recent article in University World News describes research from a South African researcher examining the prevalence of collaboration between African and non-African researchers relative to inter-African collaborations.

The study also raises questions regarding the influence of such collaborations on the topics of research performed in Africa and the extent to which these topics reflect local priorities.

The concerns flagged in this report are consistent with the marked interest in building research capacity that we have seen in projects proposed by Academics Without Borders’ university partners in the majority world.

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