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Laura Chillag: Volunteering in Malawi to improve radiology capacity

Updated: Apr 8

Laura, a Radiographer from Manchester specialising in CT scanning, has been supporting Worldwide Radiology for over a year. Her operational support for the remote image transfer via the CMRAD platform - both for the MDTs in the Gambia and the remote reporting support we are just starting in Malawi - has been invaluable.

Laura has been to Malawi to help our collaboration organise the CT study day. Her visit proved to be a great success and was very well received. She provided technical training, as well as a huge amount of logistical support to organise the day and programme.

As a final year student of a masters degree in Global Health at the University of Manchester, Laura has vast amounts of knowledge on the subject matter. Laura shares her experience volunteering in Malawi in this blog post.

On 23rd August, I jetted off from my home in Manchester to the city of Blantyre in Malawi. It was my first visit to Malawi - in fact, my first visit to anywhere in Africa! It was also my first time travelling overseas in my professional capacity as a radiographer, and as a volunteer with Worldwide Radiology.

I have been volunteering with Worldwide Radiology for just over a year. During that time, I have been involved in some really exciting projects, helping to support our partners in Ghana, the Gambia and Malawi.

It has been great to be able to meet and interact with radiology professionals all over the world, using video conferencing platforms like Zoom, but nothing can replace the experience of actually being there and meeting people in person. So a few months ago, when asked if I would like to go to Malawi to visit the CT department at a public hospital and help deliver a CT study day, I jumped at the chance.

As a fairly seasoned traveller, the idea of going to a new country didn’t phase me much. But the prospect of entering an unfamiliar working environment and taking on a new role filled me with some trepidation. However, I needn’t have worried. From the moment I arrived at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, I was welcomed and supported by colleagues in the radiology department, and quickly learned that our similarities far outweighed any differences.

Obviously, there are challenges in Malawi that I have not faced as a healthcare worker in the UK- the lack of resources and infrastructure, and the ever-present burden of infectious disease (malaria, TB and HIV are still common here). But the way we scan our patients is essentially the same, and I encountered many familiar ‘challenges’ of the CT radiographer. Trying to keep a toddler still for a head scan or getting that CTPA timing just right is no easier in Manchester than it is in Malawi.

My two weeks in Blantyre were a bit of a whirlwind, but very productive and extremely enjoyable. As well as delivering a workshop on CT skills at a successful study day, I was able to teach the radiographers at QECH some image post-processing techniques and offer advice on dose reduction.

I also did some operational work on Worldwide Radiology’s teleradiology service, which will help relieve the reporting burden of the hospital’s two radiologists.

Finally, I helped set-up a teaching link between a Worldwide Radiology volunteer reporting radiographer and two trainee radiologists at QECH, who will be among the first radiologists to be trained in Malawi. In addition to my time at QECH, I was also able to do some collaborative work with the Malawi-Liverpool Wellcome Trust, exploring ways they can help support clinical services and future research projects in CT.

It wasn’t all hard work… In my free time I was able to explore the beautiful city of Blantyre, enjoying the sights, sounds and food. The views from my accommodation at Kabula Lodge were incredible, which more than made up for the frequent power cuts! But the highlight was a visit to a wildlife reserve at Majete. Seeing elephants, giraffes and lions in the wild was a once in a lifetime experience that I will never forget.

I am already looking forward to my next visit. Until then, I hope to be able to continue to support the radiology team at QECH remotely, in my capacity as a Worldwide Radiology volunteer. I would like to thank everyone I worked with at QECH and Malawi-Liverpool Wellcome Trust, for making my first African experience such a memorable one, and also Worldwide Radiology, for giving me such a fantastic opportunity. I hope my Malawian colleagues were able to learn a little from me, as I undoubtedly learned a lot from them.


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