Theresa Mkandawire, Ph.D. , Dean of Engineering | University of Malawi — The Polytechnic

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During the last several weeks, the NEST360° team has met with government and university officials across Malawi, Tanzania, and Nigeria to collect feedback on our proposal. These meetings have made me think of a proverb from my country: “kalikokha nkanyama, ali awiri ndi anthu,” meaning to be human is to work alongside and collaborate with others, to better our kind and our community.

It has been an honor to engage leaders in sub-Saharan Africa about investing in the future of health and education in our communities. My team received humbling praise for our work; but, more importantly, we were met with tough criticism — the most necessary feedback for our proposal to grow.

In a meeting with UNICEF, we were reminded that even if we train technicians to maintain our NEST devices, most district hospitals across the continent lack the tools for preventative maintenance.

Taking that critique to heart, we now plan to include a repair toolkit along with the NEST package, complete with hand tools, electrical tools, spare device parts, test equipment, and additional medical equipment, allowing technicians to maintain NEST as well as troubleshoot problems with basic hospital equipment.

The Ministries of Health in Nigeria and Tanzania emphasized the importance of training biomedical engineering students and biomedical technicians to conduct this sort of preventive maintenance and repair. The Malawi Polytechnic provides both types of training, but our initially proposed set of partner schools focus solely on engineering education.

To address this gap, my team visited the Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology, the perfect partner to help us address this need, as they have just introduced a new BiomedTech training program with hopes of it becoming a Center of Excellence in the area. We plan to work together to achieve their ambitions, strengthening the curriculum and teaching lab to bring the Center of Excellence to fruition and ensure the long-term sustainability of NEST.

To be human is to collaborate, engage, and band together to build a better world. Our interactions with community leaders have proven just that.

This post was first published on the MacArthur Foundation website.

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