Education And Debate

Creating a medical school for Malawi: problems and achievements

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.325.7360.384 (Published 17 August 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:384
  1. Robert L Broadhead, professor (rlbroadhead@sdnp.org.mw),
  2. Adamson S Muula, lecturer in community health
  1. College of Medicine, Private Bag 360, Chichiri, Blantyre 3, Malawi
  1. Correspondence to: R L Broadhead
  • Accepted 7 February 2002

A decade after developing a medical school from scratch and devising a curriculum appropriate to local conditions, Robert Broadhead, a founder member of staff and the present principal, and his colleague Adamson Muula describe how the problems have been successfully surmounted in Malawi

In a poor country, developing a medical school is a major undertaking. Malawi, with no medical school of its own, depended on expatriate doctors, missionaries, and the uncertain return of its own nationals perforce sent abroad to qualify. The cost of not having a school had to be balanced against that of investing in setting one up. We describe how Malawi founded its own medical school with the help of donors and sponsors, especially the United Kingdom.

Malawi's dilemma

Before Malawi—formerly Nyasaland—was created in 1963, its medical students had mainly been going to the well established medical schools in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). After 1963 this became more difficult, and many students were sent to Britain with British sponsorship. Sending young students abroad immediately after their secondary education and in their formative years risks their not coming back when they qualify. This proved to be the case. By the 1980s, the joke—ironically true—was that there were more Malawian doctors practising in Manchester than in the whole of Malawi.

To solve this problem, the Malawi government, after some hesitation, decided to build its own medical school and looked to British institutions for help. After a series of three separate commissions to outline the feasibility and manner of development, the government committed itself to establishment of a medical school. 1 2 In 1986 a tripartite commission (so called because the British, (West) German, and Malawian governments agreed to co-sponsor the project) mapped out the future development of a college of medicine.3

The commission recommended that …

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