From the way Rose Nyirenda— who presented information on the research topic ‘Malawi’s progress towards the UNAids 95-95-95 HIV Testing and Treatment Targets: Comparison of the 2015- 16 and 2020-21 Malawi Population-based HIV Impact Assessments’— stressed points, it was clear that research experts that gathered at Kamuzu University of Health Sciences for the two-day Research Dissemination Conference from November 24 to 25 were ready to attack diseases from all angles.
The conference was the first one to be organised by the institution since the unbundling of four constituent colleges of the University of Malawi.
From a layman’s point of view, some of the research topics needed expert opinion to be dissected. Take, for instance, Dr Patrick Musicha’s research topic ‘AMR in sub-Saharan Africa: A One Health Problem? Insights from Genomic Analysis of Community Carriage ESBL Producing Enterobacteriaceae from Uganda and Malawi’.
At the conference, though, he was able to simplify things.
It all started with Professor Louise Kenny, Executive Pro Vice Chancellor of the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at the University of Liverpool, who, in her keynote address, implored researchers to value all research, even research that produces negative results.
The Professor of Obstetrics said, for far too long, some researchers have focused on getting results they intended to get in the first place, leading to cases of cheating.
“Success is failure in progress. Making public negative data helps other researchers channel resources elsewhere. It also helps researchers save on time that would have been lost conducting research [that is unlikely to yield the desired results],” Kenny said.
She further indicated that 85 percent of published studies have produced positive results.
She further said, between 1990 and 2007, the majority of research findings came out with positive results, an indication that negative data are not embraced in the world.
On her part, education Minister Agnes NyaLonje asked universities in the country to be conducting research based on needs as one way of improving the quality of people’s lives.
“You will find that, when research is based on a need, it can contribute to the improvement of quality life. It can also inform policy making. This is why we, as a ministry, are encouraging universities to intensify research efforts.
“We are, therefore, happy that Kamuzu University of Health Sciences has organised the research dissemination conference because our hope is that some of the outcomes will contribute to efforts aimed at achieving national development goals, including Malawi 2063 [vision] goals. Kuhes has taken research a little farther,” she said.
According to Kuhes Vice Chancellor, Professor Macpherson Mallewa, the conference was organised to provide solutions to some of the health problems besetting Malawi.
He cited malaria, high blood pressure, tuberculosis, Covid, polio, leprosy, polio, diabetes, mental health as some of the health conditions that warrant immediate solutions.
“This is the first time for us to organise a dissemination conference since the unbundling of the University of Malawi and we are excited with the wide range of topics researchers have covered.
“We, as Kuhes, want to play a leading role in finding solutions to health challenges in Malawi. We want to contribute to efforts aimed at improving the quality of life of people,” Mallewa said.
The vice chancellor said they have been working in partnership with other institutions, notably the University of Liverpool.
Kuhes prides itself in being a training institution that is billed to contribute immensely to the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), notably goal number 3.
The goal in question is premised on ensuring health and well-being of all, including, according to its website, https://www.kuhes.ac.mw, “a bold commitment to end the epidemics of Aids, Covid, tuberculosis, malaria and other communicable diseases”.
The academic institution further prides itself as the beehive of research.
“While the aim of the university is to competitively impart knowledge and produce transferable skills through teaching, learning and application of knowledge, skills and aptitudes to meet professional needs of society at national, regional and global levels, Kuhes promotes research activities because it is through research that a university can be ranked high and be accorded the accolades it deserves. In this view, the university boasts of the presence of a Research Support Centre, a unique facility in Malawi and beyond, whose sole mandate is to support research activities at the university,” it indicates.
It is in line with this that this year’s dissemination conference was organised, attracting researchers, policy makers, students and the general public.
In the course of the conference, about 80 oral and 181 poster presentations were made, adding to the body of knowledge in the health sector.
Held under the theme ‘Excellence for Life: Through Multidisciplinary Research and Innovations’, Mallewa says goals of the conference were met, citing the presentation of earth-shaking research findings, networking opportunities and the likelihood of some of the research findings informing public policy.
More so because presentations focused on, among other areas, mental health, nutrition, infectious diseases, clinical management, environmental health, social science in health, health systems and policy, non-communicable diseases, epidemiology and public health, sexual and reproductive health and maternal, neonatal and child health.
To spice things up, researchers had the opportunity to participate in a science cafe session, during which they dissected the topic: ‘Scientific Evidence on Medical Marijuana in Malawi and the Psychosocial Implications’.
During the session, participants discussed the issue of industrial hemp at length, weighing options in an era when other types of marijuana remain banned under the laws of Malawi.
This year’s conference attracted 700 attendees, some of whom came from Europe.
The dissemination conference itself is a continuation of a long-held tradition, starting way back, when Kuhes was known as the College of Medicine (CoM).
Com was opened in 1991 as a community medical school offering health-related courses. One of its goals, according to university officials, was to conduct research relevant to Malawi and the rest of the world.
It started conducting research dissemination conferences since 1997.
Some of the themes it has held conferences under include ‘Health Research for Preventing Illness and Improved Health Services in Malawi’, ‘Driving the Next Decade of Research in Malawi: Achieving Health-related Sustainable Development Goals’, ‘College of Medicine Research Excellence Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow’, ‘Addressing the Double Threat of Non-communicable and Communicable Diseases in Malawi’, ‘Reduction of Disease Burden in Malawi: Evidence-based Public Health Approach’, ‘Towards 2015 ‘Success and Challenges of Health and HIV and Aids Research in the Context of Millennium Goals’.
The other themes were ‘Promoting Research for a Healthy Nation’, ‘Promoting Demand-driven Research in Malawi’, ‘Implementing Research into Policy’, ‘Research Capacity Building in Malawi’, ‘Good Research Practice’, ‘From Research to Treatment: Improving the Care of Patients with HIV’, ‘A Decade of Research Dissemination in Malawi’, ‘Research Addressing Poverty-related Diseases in Malawi’, ‘Translating Research into Health Policy in Malawi’, ‘Promoting Health Research and Ethics in Malawi’, ‘Encouraging Health Research in Malawi’, ‘College of Medicine and Research in the First 10 Years’, and ‘Health Research and Policy in Malawi’.
And, in Mallewa’s words, the best is yet to come.