In October 2018, the MLSFH team lead by Prof. Iliana Kohler (University of Pennsylvania) and Mr. James Mwera (Invest in Knowledge, IKI, Malawi) organized dissemination and donation activities in all 3 study areas in Malawi: Mchinji in the central part of the county, Rumphi in the north and Balaka in the south. The dissemination activities of study results focused on local stakeholders at three levels: national, district, and community levels.
The donation activities targeted the local MLSFH study communities. The purpose of these dissemination activities was to improve awareness and understanding of the study, its results and its public health policy relevance among various stakeholders. All meetings with different stakeholders included about 1h long PowerPoint presentation that summarized key study results and their importance for health policy makers in Malawi and other sub-Saharan African countries, followed by open discussions and feedback from the participants. In addition, the study team distributed newsletters summarizing study findings: for the national and district level participants, these dissemination materials were in English; For community level participants, the dissemination materials, including the PowerPoint presentation, were translated into the local languages (Chichewa, Chitumbuka and Chiyao).
The dissemination activities increased the awareness about the study and its relevance among local and national stakeholders. Moreover, the dissemination activities provided the local communities with the rare opportunity to interact with the researchers, ask questions about the study and its results, and many participants emphasized that this is generally a very unique approach for a research study in Malawi.
The donation activities were informed by the study findings (e..g., high prevalence of hypertension among older individuals in the study areas, poorly equipped health centers) and an assessment of the needs of the communities. The donations targeted schools, health centers and the village communities in the study areas and included various items such as: Water carts (2 per school), drums for water storage (2 per school), football balls, automated blood pressure machines (2 per health care center), thermometers, stethoscopes, bicycle ambulances (i.e., bicycle and the trailer to transport patients, 1 per group village head), etc. In total 18 schools, 8 health centers and 1 health posts, and 13 group village heads received donations for the village communities. Moreover, large items such as the water carts, the bicycle ambulances including the trailer were made by local manufacturers.
The following feedbacks from the communities is an example for the impact of the selected donations in the village communities in the MLSFH study areas: “We do not have a borehole for the school. Learners have to run to the village borehole during break time to drink water. Now, you can imagine 400 children crowding one borehole during a 15 minute break. The result is lengthy break and chaos at the borehole. The donations will alleviate this problem because we draw water and have it at the school,” male head teacher, Balaka. One health worker from a busy health center in Mchinji made a very touching revelation: “We used to have 2 thermometers at our facility. One was being used in the Out Patients Department and another in the Maternity Department. One thermometer later went missing and we started sharing the remaining one. Recently, the remaining one started malfunctioning. These donations are very timely and will go a long way in supporting this community.” A group village head in Balaka commented, “In our area, health centers are very far. We agreed that people should contribute so that each group should at least have one bicycle ambulance. However, people are failing to make enough contributions to buy a bicycle ambulance. These donations are a great relief to those group village heads that have received them.