Scottish academics and doctors have helped to train the first psychiatrists to qualify in Malawi, ministers have announced.
The Scotland Malawi Mental Health Education Project (SMMHEP) supplied teaching resources and volunteer lecturers to help train three student psychiatrists in the south east African country.
The project, backed by a £300,000 cash injection from the Scottish Government, helped Malawi’s College of Medicine establish the training programme, working with South Africa’s University of Cape Town and the University of Edinburgh.
Ministers said there are now four psychiatrists working in Malawi, one for every 4.5 million people in the country, meaning it still has the worst ratio of psychiatric doctors to population in southern Africa.
The Scottish Government funding is now said to be supporting the training of four more psychiatrists.
Holyrood’s International Development Minister Dr Alasdair Allan said: “Thanks to Scottish expertise, for the first time in a generation, this project has helped train three clinically qualified psychiatrists at Malawi’s College of Medicine including the first Malawian woman to become a psychiatrist.
“The Scotland Malawi Mental Health Education Project has worked to address the chronic lack of mental healthcare provision in Malawi by educating and training mental healthcare professionals and establishing the postgraduate psychiatry course at the country’s College of Medicine.”
Dr Carol Robertson, a consultant psychiatrist with NHS Grampian involved with the project, said: “Over the past 11 years SMMHEP has arranged for over 100 volunteer psychiatrists to teach the undergraduates in Malawi.
“This has resulted in the delivery of high quality medical education which has laid the foundations of psychiatric awareness in a generation of junior doctors in Malawi.
“The very positive feedback that we get from these students will improve the treatment of psychiatric patients and has inspired some of them to train further.”
Experts hope that Malawi’s College of Medicine can eventually become self-sustaining in training psychiatrists to work across the country.
Dr Kazione Kulisewa is head of the department of psychiatry at Kamuzu Central Hospital in the capital Lilongwe. He has been a doctor for 10 years, eight of those spent in psychiatry.
“Mental health conditions, despite their high disease burden frequency, go under the radar in Malawi. Hopefully, we can increase the level of awareness of these conditions. I would also like to see reform of mental health services in the country, with more of an emphasis on community care and less on institutional care.”
Dr Olive Liwimbi, 37, said her family are proud of her for becoming one of the first psychiatrists in Malawi.
She said: “It was like psychiatry kept beckoning me to do it. I decided I would be a doctor when I was 10. I became interested in psychology in my teenage years. Psychiatry seemed a good way of doing both.
“The fourth year block in psychiatry sealed the deal. I love working with people with various mental illnesses. Seeing them improve and going back to their families is a joy.
“My family are proud. They have always encouraged me to pursue my dreams.”