Many collaborators, multiple opportunities
Local, national and international collaborations can yield outcomes that exceed expectations
It was a great honour for a team involved in the MalDent Project to be invited to deliver the Caldwell Memorial Lecture at the 2022 College of General Dentistry Scottish Study Day, held at Glasgow Science Centre in December. The title of the jointly delivered presentation was The MalDent Project: Progress through Partnerships.
As well as updating delegates on the status of the project, the teamís aim with their presentation was to show how local, national and international collaborations, based on mutual trust and respect,
can yield outcomes that exceed expectations.
Working with the Malawian Ministry of Health and the Dental Association of Malawi ensured messages were culturally appropriate and community led
Professor Jeremy Bagg began 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).
In 2018 they were jointly awarded a Scottish Government International Development grant
of £1.3 million over four-and-a-half years. Their 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 Organization.
These were ambitious objectives and from the outset there were multiple partners across the academic, healthcare, charitable and commercial sectors.
The presentation focused on the role played by three UK charities ñ Bridge2Aid, Dentaid and Smileawi – and the dental supply company Henry Schein, working in collaboration with the two university partners. 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 is this particular skill that it has brought to bear on the MalDent Project.
Stuart Bassham, Dentaidís Workshop and Engineering Manager, flew up to the Study Day from Southampton to tell delegates about the work he and his team had carried out, replacing 22 dental chairs and installing 12 A-dec phantom head units in the Dental Department at Kamuzu Central Hospital.
During both installation visits to Malawi, Henry Schein 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.
The work to develop a National Oral Health Policy for Malawi took place following the establishment of a policy taskforce in February 2020, culminating in launch of the policy on 14 April 2022.
Some 22 meetings were held online, with a small number of face-to-face meetings among the Malawian taskforce members. Attention has now turned to implementation of the policy and the Study Day was
a wonderful opportunity for Nigel and Vicky Milne, the Scottish founders of the charity Smileawi,
to tell the audience about the wide variety of activities their organisation undertakes in Malawi in the context of the policy.
As a small Scottish charity with a main aim of helping to improve oral health services in Malawi, much of Smileawiís work aligns very closely with the seven pillars of the Oral Health Policy.
Key to their operation is providing very important support for the dental therapists and funding 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 andBridge2Aid, described by the next speaker, was another example of engagement with dental therapists to strengthen oral disease prevention – a key policy objective.
Bridge2Aid is a key charity partner of the MalDent Project. Andrew Paterson, one of the charityís trustees, has been involved as a clinician with the successful emergency dentistry task-shifting programme that Bridge2Aid has delivered in Tanzania for more than 15 years.
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.
Andrew described how phase one was a modular course delivered remotely to Northern Malawi dental therapists, using the ProDental CPD platform, to upskill their oral health knowledge and give them teaching skills, so they could share key oral health messages to remote and rural areas and 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 train rural Oral Health Promoter volunteers who are actively engaged in promoting oral health in schools, churches and other community settings rurally.
The course will be run in Central Malawi this year and thereafter in Southern Malawi, to create a national network of rural Oral Health Promoters.
The presentation finished with a summary by Professor Bagg of three ongoing workstreams – the design and construction of a 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 this year.
He also stressed how important multi-sectoral collaborations have been to the progress of the project.
To learn more about the MalDent Project, please visit themaldentproject.com