In Malawi, those at the forefront of improving stroke awareness and care came together to mark World Stroke Day and to celebrate the imminent establishment of the first stroke unit in the country and the newly formed Stroke Support Organisation Malawi.
The Malawi Stroke Unit project is a pioneering partnership between University College London (UCLH) and Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, Blantyre. Phase 1 of the project aims to build and equip the stroke unit and then train the Malawi multi-disciplinary team on stroke pathways and procedures with support from the UCLH stroke team. The focus is to develop pragmatic solutions for maintaining stroke services in a resource-poor setting.
Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital have provided executive support from their senior management team. There is also a commitment to release identified healthcare professionals to receive training and education both in Malawi and the UK. Dr Tamara Phiri is the dedicated clinical lead for the new stroke unit.
The building work for the stroke unit, funded by Telekoms Network Malawi, is in a dedicated space within Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital. The project has also raised money for equipment for the unit and initial staff training costs and won a small amount of funding from the World Federation of Neurology to support a pilot project using low-cost equipment to aid stroke prevention in Malawi.
In the lead up to World Stroke Day, the final finishes were being made to the stroke unit, ensuring non-slip floor surfaces in bathrooms, putting up curtains for the mixed gender ward and fixing shelves for monitors. An open day was held on World Stroke Day to announce the imminent opening of the unit.
Alongside this monumental step forward in access to acute stroke treatment in Malawi, is the need to raise awareness in the community of stroke facts, symptoms and emergency response. In a context where myths about stroke persist and stigma and discrimination is a reality for stroke survivors, the work of the Stroke Support Organisation Malawi is vital. The mission of the SSO, registered in May 2021, is to partner with the Malawi government in the reduction of stroke burden through prevention, treatment, and long-term care. The objectives of SSO Malawi are to:
- represent the views and perspectives of people with lived experience of stroke and their families to influence policy and service provision in Malawi
- organise services and support in the community using trained volunteers with links to professionals
- provide relevant information to stroke survivors and their caregivers through collaboration with health professionals
Ahead of World Stroke Day, SSO Malawi highlighted the need to raise more awareness of stroke, the increasing burden in Malawi and importance of prevention and timely access to treatment. Throughout the month of October SSO Malawi worked tirelessly to build momentum and engagement. The organisation wrote weekly articles on stroke in the local newspaper, the Malawi News, focusing on the signs and symptoms of stroke and stroke prevention. The SSO was involved in TV programmes about stroke and the role of SSO Malawi, along with a wellness fair with local churches in the city of Blantyre, where health checks and aerobic exercises were conducted. To further engage with the public, they facilitated a radio phone-in program where members of the public were given the opportunity to ask questions related to stroke in the local language to a panel consisting of stroke professionals and a stroke survivor.
“There is some attention from government and others, in particular this year the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital will open the first stroke unit where stroke patients will be treated in a proper way and this at least shows that we are moving with international standards…..But then looking at prevention and awareness we urge the government to scale up health care services and ensure increased awareness of risk factors and the need to act FAST among the population,” says SSO Malawi co-founder George Chimatiro.
In a sign of the commitment to collaboration between those involved in improving stroke awareness and care in Malawi, the SSO Malawi and the Malawi Stroke Unit team commemorated World Stroke Day by organising a walk through Blantyre, sharing stroke information and the importance of acting FAST, along with health talks and health screening at Kachere Rehabilitation Centre.
For more information:
SSO Malawi - https://strokesupportmalawi.org/
Malawi Stroke Unit - https://malawistrokeunit.org/