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.