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Navigating radiology challenges in Malawi

Updated: Apr 15

In Malawi, a country grappling with so many economic and social challenges, more than half the population faces the uphill battle of securing good healthcare. For those residing in rural areas, where health facilities are sparse and roads are unforgiving, even reaching a local health centre is a notable accomplishment.

Today, our colleagues from Malawi, Dr Karen Chetcuti and Dr Olive Mkwinda help us explore in more detail the intricate web of challenges faced by the average Malawian in accessing diagnostic imaging — a crucial aspect of healthcare often taken for granted.

The Uphill Climb Begins: Rural Realities

In a country where more than half the population lives in poverty, the challenge of accessing healthcare is formidable. Rural areas, where a significant portion of the population resides, face infrastructural barriers and limited health facilities.

Imagine navigating bad roads just to reach a local health centre, all while contending with low literacy levels and prevailing misconceptions about healthcare.

“Arriving at a rural health centre, you quickly realise that basic imaging services, such as X-rays or ultrasound scans, are out of reach”, shares Dr Mkwinda.

Dr Olive Mkwinda Smiling
Dr Olive Mkwinda

For those needing more advanced care, the only option is a referral to a district hospital, a journey daunting in itself.

For many living in poverty, even affording transport is a stretch. They must wait, sometimes dependent on the urgency of emergencies or the accumulation of enough patients needing referrals.

Upon arrival at the district hospital, basic imaging services might be accessible. But if a patient requires more advanced diagnostics, like a CT scan or MRI, they must travel even further, to a tertiary facility in a different region.

This complex and often bureaucratic process can make the pursuit of healthcare feel increasingly out of reach, a disheartening truth for many Malawians.

The Stark Reality: Radiology Access in Malawi

The scenario described may sound extreme, but it's the daily reality for many in Malawi. The journey to access even basic healthcare is fraught with obstacles, and when it comes to radiology services, the situation is particularly dire. This reality is far from a dramatic exaggeration; it's a daily struggle for survival and well-being.

In Malawi, the availability of radiological services and experts is alarmingly low, especially when compared to the needs of its growing population.

Consider these statistics to understand the scale of the challenge:

  • Only four radiologist consultants are serving a country with a population exceeding 18 million. This severe shortage means that expert radiological analysis and advice are scarce, leading to delayed or missed diagnoses.

  • In the public healthcare sector, less than 100 radiologic technologists are employed. These professionals are crucial in operating imaging equipment and ensuring accurate results, and their scarcity puts immense pressure on the healthcare system.

  • The entire nation, with its millions of inhabitants, has access to only three CT scanners and a single MRI machine. This not only leads to long waiting times but also forces many to travel great distances for essential diagnostic services.

  • Many of Malawi's X-ray machines are outdated, which can compromise the quality of imaging and, consequently, the accuracy of diagnoses.

  • The training and updating of skills for radiology staff are often inadequate due to limited resources, affecting the quality of radiological services.

  • Rural areas, where a significant portion of the population resides, are particularly underserved. In these regions, access to even the most basic radiology services is almost non-existent, forcing residents to travel long distances to urban centres.

This lack of radiological services impacts not just the diagnosis and treatment of common injuries and illnesses but also hinders the effective management of more serious conditions like cancers, heart diseases, and neurological disorders.

The situation in Malawi highlights the critical need for investment in healthcare infrastructure, training of medical personnel, and acquisition of modern medical equipment to ensure that essential health services are accessible to all, regardless of where they live.

Building a Radiology Future in Malawi

“In the face of these challenges, Worldwide Radiology is making strides”, shares Dr. Karen Chetcuti, our in-country Project Lead and Consultant Paediatric Radiologist, “Currently, Worldwide Radiology is supporting a residency program at Kamuzu University of Health Sciences”.

Through this program, resident radiologists are exposed to expertise, equipped with new workstations through resources mobilisation, and linked with online courses, enhancing their capabilities.

Dr Chetcuti's residents benefit from dedicated study sessions, free high-quality online courses, and hands-on experience, all supported by international experts and teleradiologists actively supported by the Collective Minds Radiology Platform.

Dr Karen Chetcuti during a training lesson with some of her medical residents alongside other practitioners.
Dr Karen Chetcuti with some of her residents and other medical practitioners.

At Worldwide Radiology, we don't stop at education. We are actively mobilising resources to improve facilities, renovate CT rooms, and create discussion spaces. These efforts aim to facilitate collaborative discussions among specialists, surgeons, and consultant radiologists, providing valuable insights to residents.

“It’s hard to list all the challenges faced by the resilient Malawian seeking medical imaging in one blog post”, shares Dr Mkwinda.

“Worldwide Radiology’s efforts provide a glimmer of hope, reminding us all of the importance of accessible healthcare for everyone, regardless of geographical location or economic standing”.

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