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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC professors aim to improve health care in Malawi

UNC Project-Malawi
UNC Project-Malawi leadership team poses outside of the new annex building in Lilongwe, Malawi in June 2017. The annex building houses the project's state-of-the-art pathology laboratories. Photo by Jon Gardiner. Photo courtesy of UNC Project-Malawi.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated who UNC Project-Malawi is a collaboration between. It is a collaboration between UNC, Malawi Ministry of Health and the Malawi College of Medicine. The story has been updated online with the correct information. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error. 

A UNC professor of neurosurgery is preparing for her next trip to Malawi in East Africa in March through UNC Project-Malawi, a collaboration between UNC, Malawi Ministry of Health and the Malawi College of Medicine. The project is dedicated to improving the quality of health care for the people of Malawi.

Carolyn Quinsey first traveled to Malawi during her residency at UNC to assist on a research mission regarding head injuries.

In the next month, Quinsey, along with her colleague, Dr. Eldad Hadar, will travel to Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, to focus on improving neurosurgical care and supporting Kamuzu Central Hospital’s newest neurosurgeon, Ken-Keller Kumwenda.

“Just having this collaboration and having a neurosurgeon willing to come knowing that we’ll be there to support him will allow us to keep a good neurosurgeon in what is normally a very poor-resourced place,” Quinsey said. 

The pair travels to Malawi twice a year for two weeks at a time.

Quinsey said the two main medical issues the Malawian population faces are head injuries and hydrocephalus, a condition common in children when fluid accumulates in the brain.

Due to the high volume of hydrocephalus cases in sub-Saharan Africa, neurosurgeons in Africa are much more skilled at the necessary preventive procedure, Quinsey said. She said she hopes Malawian neurosurgeons will also acquires these skills and eventually help train UNC residents. 

“I certainly don’t think that I’m the hero in this by any source of the imagination,” Quinsey said. “I think that UNC is a really unique hospital that supports this global work.” 

In 1999, UNC’s Malawi activities and MOH solidified their relationship with the creation of the UNC Project-Malawi building, an HIV and STD research and care center, according to the UNC Project-Malawi website.

What started in 1990 – two UNC faculty members conducting HIV and STD research in Malawi – has now grown into a project that employs over 300 people tackling various medical issues including meningitis, pneumonia and malaria.

“Just like the University here, we have three pillars. One is training, one is research and one is direct care,” said Irving Hoffman, the international director of UNC Project-Malawi. “And through those activities, our main objective is to improve the quality of health of the people of Malawi.”

Looking ahead, Dr. Myron Cohen, the director of the Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases and associate vice chancellor for Global Health, said establishing a self-sufficient medical community in Malawi is one of the project’s main goals.

“Our expression has always been, for the last 10 years, ‘Malawi is for the Malawians,’” Cohen said. “Our real goal is not to be there as endlessly kind of cheerleading. Our goal is to train people enough that we leave.” 


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