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Malawi hospital carries out its first successful brain surgery

Malawian Dr Ken-Keller Kumwenda and a team of local doctors, nurses and anaesthetists have carried out Kamuzu Central Hospital’s first ever brain tumour surgery. However, as the country does not meet the recommended surgeon ratio, does this present a career opportunity for the country’s youth?

A 37-year-old Malawian woman diagnosed with brain tumor had her tumour successfully removed in a five-hour operation by neurosurgeon Dr Ken-Keller Kumwenda and his team at the Kamuzu Central Hospital. This is the hospital’s first ever brain surgery.

Speaking about the operation, Dr Jonathan Ngoma, the director of Kamuzu Central Hospital, said he was proud that they conducted the surgery in-house, instead of referring the patient to hospitals further afield. This was done despite the lack of qualified neurosurgeons and equipment at the hospital.

“Due to a scarcity of resources, such as imaging equipment and qualified medical personnel, most of these patients are sent to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Blantyre for treatment.”

“We are currently mobilising resources from our partners in Norway, and we need them all so that Dr Kumwenda can perform his duties without difficulty,” he added.

Extreme brain drain

Malawi was ranked the seventh poorest nation in the world in 2017, and this has a significant impact on the country when it comes to achieving the UN Global Goal of “good health and wellbeing for everyone”.

The World Health Organisation recommends a ratio of one neurosurgeon to every 100 000 people in a country. Malawi has only two specialists for more than 16 million people and only one medical doctor for every 50 000 people.

“We need to have more neurosurgeons,” Dr Ngoma stresses.

Read: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Film based and set in Malawi to debut on Netflix

The Malawian government has done its part in attempting to bridge the gap. In the past it has paid for surgical trainees to go to South Africa or Europe to receive their training. Although some of the trainees returned home, many unfortunately did not.

“There are more Malawian surgeons in Glasgow than in Malawi,” Anthony Charles, leader of the Malawian Surgical Initiative, told Global Health.

The Malawian Surgical Initiative is a partnership between the UNC Department of Surgery, Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe, Malawi, and the Malawi College of Medicine in Blantyre. “Funded through public, private and corporate philanthropy, the initiative covers half of the expenses for students, including a stipend, books and other learning materials, and funding for travel to academic conferences. The Malawian government covers the rest,” Global Health states.

The initiative provides training and education for Malawians interested in a wide range of health careers, with an emphasis on training more women.

“We’ve seen in Malawi that men are more likely to take the increased training and salary potential and move elsewhere,” Charles said. “In our experience, the women have stronger community roots, making them much more likely to stay.”

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