Launch of family medicine training in Malawi

On 25 February 2016, an exciting event occurred in Malawi, the launch of postgraduate family medicine training. Malawi is a landlocked country of about 17 million people in Southern Africa, one of the least developed nations in the world, but known as the warm heart of Africa.

In 2008 a summit was held in Malawi to discuss what was, at that time, only a dream - to establish district-based family medicine training. The idea of family medicine in Malawi was little unknown at that time and there were no indigenous family doctors. That has now changed. Two Malawian physicians, Drs Luckson Dullie and Martha Makwero, completed family medicine training in Lesotho and returned to Malawi to lead development. With support from many partners a department of family medicine was established within the University Of Malawi College Of Medicine. Under the VLIR-supported Primafamed twinning programme, Malawi was linked to the Department of Family Medicine at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. An undergraduate clerkship in family medicine with rotations at district hospitals was started in 2009 and has been instilling family medicine values in undergraduates sustainably since that time.

The first Family Medicine registrars in training in Malawi

From this base, a curriculum was developed for a four year Masters of Medicine programme to train family physicians for Malawi, based on models from other African countries. It was decided that the training should be based in district hospitals. Thus it came about that 3 family medicine registrars commenced training in Mangochi District Hospital in early 2015. Under the leadership of Dr Makwero, the current head of department, a team of family medicine faculty, including US Peace Corps volunteer physicians and visiting specialists, works with the department in Blantyre, 190km away, which conducts regular visits to the district hospital facility.

Family Medicine Faculty, registrars, and partners

The launch of postgraduate family medicine training in Malawi, hosted by the District Health Officer of Mangochi, was attended by about 50 people from across the country. Amongst the dignitaries present were the guest of honor, Secretary for Health of Malawi Dr McPhail Magwira, the Principal of the College of Medicine Dr Mwapatsa Mipando and representatives from partner organizations. Dr Mipando remarked that family medicine as a key part in the recently established School of Public Health and Family Medicine at the college, acknowledging family medicine as the bridge between communities and specialist based in hospital. Dr Magwira acknowledged that a health system based on primary care delivers efficient and cost-effective care, and was clear that family physicians are central to achieving this outcome. The Ministry of Health in its strategic plan is committed that there will be a minimum of two family physicians in each district hospital.

Group Photo of Attendees at the Family Medicine Launch

It is hoped that the programme will attract both sufficient funding and applications to expand to other sites going forward. We believe that future family physicians in Malawi, and the communities they serve, will be able to look back on this day as an historic turning point.

A brief news report produced by Malawi Broadcasting Corporation is here

Ian Couper, Martha Makwero, John Parks