Unmet Surgical Need in Malawi

Globally, and especially in sub-Saharan Africa, including Malawi, surgical conditions receive a low level of priority in national health systems. The burden of surgical diseases is not well documented and the reasons for which people still live with treatable conditions and disabilities or sometimes present late for care have also not been studied. There is also little information on surgical deaths from untreated conditions in both adults and children, including trauma, as well as potential barriers to obtaining surgical care.
The aim of this thesis was therefore to describe the untreated surgical conditions, in both adults and children, the barriers to surgical health care, as well as to document information about deaths from surgical conditions in Malawi.
This thesis is based on four papers. All four involved data collected using the SOSAS tool, which is a questionnaire-based data collection tool for documenting household information in the communities. The tool had three sections, the first section capturing demographic data for the households; including number of occupants, ages, gender, location and type of household, and tribe. The next two sections were similar but involved interviewing two different people and asking about information relating to surgical conditions present for both adults and paediatric age groups, including injuries, associated disability from acquired or congenital disorders, transportation to health facility and location of death from different surgical conditions. The two household members interviewed, included the head of household and another random member within the household. Data collection was centrally organized by a project group, and performed by third year medical students from the University of Malawi, College of Medicine.
Data was collected as a national survey from the 28 districts in Malawi. The National Statistics Board helped us to identify the villages used in the study.
We found that a third of the Malawian population were living with a surgical condition and were in need of a surgical consultation or treatment. These conditions were either congenital or the result of a traumatic or other non-traumatic condition. We also found that almost one fifth of the children with a surgical condition that could have been treated by surgery, instead remained with a disability that affected their daily lives.
In addition, we found that transportation poses a barrier to timely access to surgical health care. Transportation barriers included the lack of efficient public transportation, cost implications, and long travel distances to get to a health facility capable of offering care by either consultation or surgical procedures.
Other findings were that acute abdominal distention, body masses and trauma, contribute to surgical conditions that are highly associated with mortality in Malawian communities. We also noted that there are various reasons that lead to delays in obtaining formal health care, including initial consultations with traditional herbalists before going to the hospital.
Almost 6 million Malawian people, including an estimated 2 million children, are living with a condition that could be treated by either a surgical procedure or consultation. There are an estimated 1 million disabled children currently living with such surgically treatable conditions. The treatment of these conditions is hampered by transportation barriers. The transportation barriers have led to delays in obtaining timely surgical health care service, something that often leads to mortality. The common causes of these deaths are from injuries, but also other surgical emergencies. Most of these deaths occur outside a health facility environment.

Protocol for a prospective cohort study of open tibia fractures in Malawi with a nested implementation of open fracture guidelines

Background: Road traffic injury (RTI) is the largest cause of death amongst 15–39-year-old people worldwide, and the burden of injuries such as open tibia fractures are rapidly increasing in Malawi. This study aims to investigate disability and economic outcomes of people with open tibia fractures in Malawi and improve these with locally delivered implementation of open fracture guidelines.
Methods: This is a prospective cohort study describing function, quality of life and economic burden of open tibia fractures in Malawi. In total, 160 participants will be recruited across six centres and will be followed-up with face-to-face interviews at six weeks, three months, six months and one year following injury. The primary outcome will be function at one year measured by the short musculoskeletal functional assessment (SMFA) score. Secondary outcomes will include quality of life measured by EuroQol EQ-5D-3L, catastrophic loss of income and implementation outcomes (acceptability, adoption, appropriateness, costs, feasibility, fidelity, penetration, and sustainability) at one year. A nested pilot pre-post implementation study of an interventional bundle for all open fractures will be developed based on other implementation studies from low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Regression analysis will be used to model and investigate associations between SMFA score and fracture severity, infection and the pre- and post-training course period.
Outcome: This prospective cohort study will report patient reported outcomes from open tibia fractures in low-resource settings. Subsequent detailed evaluation of both the clinical and implementation components of the study will promote sustainability of improved open fractures management in the study sites and further scale-up of open fracture management guidelines.
Ethics: Ethics approval has been obtained from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and College of Medicine Research and Ethics committee.

Road Traffic Injuries in Malawi with special focus on the role of alcohol

Driving under the influence of alcohol is one of the principal causes of road traffic crashes (RTCs) [1]. The use of alcohol is also a risk factor for other road users, such as pedestrians and bicyclists. The association of alcohol in injurious and fatal RTCs has been well documented in most high-income countries, but data for low- and middle-income countries is scarce, particularly for African countries [2]. The study was a collaborative effort between Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH), the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) and Oslo University Hospital (OUH), with the financial support of UK Aid through the Global Road Safety Facility (GRSF) hosted by the World Bank, the International Council on Alcohol Drugs and Traffic Safety (ICADTS) and the Norwegian Council for Road Safety (Trygg Trafikk). The objective of the study was to generate new knowledge about road traffic injuries in Malawi and the extent of traffic accidents related to alcohol use, to increase capacity to conduct alcohol testing, and develop a database for the findings, which in turn will form the basis for future policymaking to reduce traffic accidents.
The objectives were achieved through collecting data on patients who sought treatment after road traffic crashes and admitted to the Emergency Department at KCH in Lilongwe, Malawi. A questionnaire was developed for data collection in cooperation between the project groups in Norway and Malawi. The data included basic information about the patients, alcohol use before the injury, and information about accident circumstances, including types of road users and vehicles involved. Participation was voluntary and anonymous. All weekdays, weekends and nights were covered. Alcohol was measured using a breathalyzer or saliva test for those who were not able to blow. Knowledge and training of local KCH employees to perform alcohol testing and record data were an important aspect of this study.
The project was approved by the National Health Science Research Committee (NHSRC) in Malawi. The Regional Committee for Medical and Health Research Ethics in Norway was consulted, and their conclusion was that no formal application was needed, with reference to the Norwegian Health Research Act Section, §2 and 4a. A Data Protection Impact Assessment was performed as required by NIPH. There were 1251 patients in the study, representing nearly 95 per cent of those who were asked to participate. The results show a rather high prevalence of alcohol use among several injured road user groups (totally about 25 percent), particularly among those injured during weekend nights and evenings, but also during weekday evenings and nights. It was estimated that about 15 per cent of injured motor vehicle drivers and riders had BACs above the legal limit of 0.8 grams/L at the time of the crash. The findings also show that it is important to focus on bus/minibus/lorry drivers who often carry passengers, where about one out of five tested positive for alcohol. It is worth noting that pedestrians had the highest prevalence of alcohol use before being injured. They constitute a vulnerable group; they often walk in the dark with no road lighting, no pavements, walkways or safe places to cross
the road. Combined with alcohol use their injury risk is even higher. The collected data can contribute to future road traffic safety procedures and measures. The long-term goal is to contribute to sustainable development goal 3, target 3.6, to reduce by half the number of global RTC deaths and injuries. Road Traffic Inuries in Malawi • Norwegian Institute of Public Health This study shows the importance of collecting adequate and relevant data for health authorities particularly in low- and middle-income countries in battling the challenge of alcohol-related road traffic crashes, deaths and injuries. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a
number of recommendations were presented to Malawian authorities at a virtual seminar held in autumn 2020.

Epidemiology of fractures and their treatment in Malawi: Results of a multicentre prospective registry study to guide orthopaedic care planning

Injuries cause 30% more deaths than HIV, TB and malaria combined, and a prospective fracture care registry was established to investigate the fracture burden and treatment in Malawi to inform evidence-based improvements.

To use the analysis of prospectively-collected fracture data to develop evidence-based strategies to improve fracture care in Malawi and other similar settings.

Multicentre prospective registry study.

Two large referral centres and two district hospitals in Malawi.

All patients with a fracture (confirmed by radiographs)—including patients with multiple fractures—were eligible to be included in the registry.

All fractures that presented to two urban central and two rural district hospitals in Malawi over a 3.5-year period (September 2016 to March 2020).

Main outcome(s) and measure(s)
Demographics, characteristics of injuries, and treatment outcomes were collected on all eligible participants.

Between September 2016 and March 2020, 23,734 patients were enrolled with a median age of 15 years (interquartile range: 10–35 years); 68.7% were male. The most common injuries were radius/ulna fractures (n = 8,682, 36.8%), tibia/fibula fractures (n = 4,036, 17.0%), humerus fractures (n = 3,527, 14.9%) and femoral fractures (n = 2,355, 9.9%). The majority of fractures (n = 21,729, 91.6%) were treated by orthopaedic clinical officers; 88% (20,885/2,849) of fractures were treated non-operatively, and 62.7% were treated and sent home on the same day. Open fractures (OR:53.19, CI:39.68–72.09), distal femoral fractures (OR:2.59, CI:1.78–3.78), patella (OR:10.31, CI:7.04–15.07), supracondylar humeral fractures (OR:3.10, CI:2.38–4.05), ankle fractures (OR:2.97, CI:2.26–3.92) and tibial plateau fractures (OR:2.08, CI:1.47–2.95) were more likely to be treated operatively compared to distal radius fractures.

Conclusions and relevance
The current model of fracture care in Malawi is such that trained orthopaedic surgeons manage fractures operatively in urban referral centres whereas orthopaedic clinical officers mainly manage fractures non-operatively in both district and referral centres. We recommend that orthopaedic surgeons should supervise orthopaedic clinical officers to manage non operative injuries in central and district hospitals. There is need for further studies to assess the clinical and patient reported outcomes of these fracture cases, managed both operatively and non-operatively.

Task-sharing to support paediatric and child health service delivery in low- and middle-income countries: current practice and a scoping review of emerging opportunities

Demographic and epidemiological changes have prompted thinking on the need to broaden the child health agenda to include care for complex and chronic conditions in the 0–19 years (paediatric) age range. Providing such services will be undermined by general and skilled paediatric workforce shortages especially in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). In this paper, we aim to understand existing, sanctioned forms of task-sharing to support the delivery of care for more complex and chronic paediatric and child health conditions in LMICs and emerging opportunities for task-sharing. We specifically focus on conditions other than acute infectious diseases and malnutrition that are historically shifted.

We (1) reviewed the Global Burden of Diseases study to understand which conditions may need to be prioritized; (2) investigated training opportunities and national policies related to task-sharing (current practice) in five purposefully selected African countries (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi and South Africa); and (3) summarized reported experience of task-sharing and paediatric and child health service delivery through a scoping review of research literature in LMICs published between 1990 and 2019 using MEDLINE, Embase, Global Health, PsycINFO, CINAHL and the Cochrane Library.

We found that while some training opportunities nominally support emerging roles for non-physician clinicians and nurses, formal scopes of practices often remain rather restricted and neither training nor policy seems well aligned with probable needs from high-burden complex and chronic conditions. From 83 studies in 24 LMICs, and aside from the historically shifted conditions, we found some evidence examining task-sharing for a small set of specific conditions (circumcision, some complex surgery, rheumatic heart diseases, epilepsy, mental health).

As child health strategies are further redesigned to address the previously unmet needs careful strategic thinking on the development of an appropriate paediatric workforce is needed. To achieve coverage at scale countries may need to transform their paediatric workforce including possible new roles for non-physician cadres to support safe, accessible and high-quality care.

Healthcare-associated infections and antimicrobial use in surgical wards of a large urban central hospital in Blantyre, Malawi: a point prevalence survey

There are limited data on healthcare-associated infections (HAI) from African countries like Malawi.

We undertook a point prevalence survey of HAI and antimicrobial use in the surgery department of Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) in Malawi and ascertained the associated risk factors for HAI.

A cross-sectional point prevalence survey (PPS) was carried out in the surgery department of QECH. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control PPS protocol version 5.3 was adapted to our setting and used as a data collection tool.

105 patients were included in the analysis; median age was 34 (IQR: 24–47) years and 55.2% patients were male. Point prevalence of HAI was 11.4% (n=12/105) (95% CI: 6.0%–19.1%), including four surgical site infections, four urinary tract infections, three bloodstream infections and one bone/joint infection. We identified the following risk factors for HAI; length-of-stay between 8 and 14 days (OR=14.4, 95% CI: 1.65–124.7, p=0.0143), presence of indwelling urinary catheter (OR=8.3, 95% CI: 2.24–30.70, p=0.003) and history of surgery in the past 30 days (OR=5.11, 95% CI: 1.46–17.83, p=0.011). 29/105 patients (27.6%) were prescribed antimicrobials, most commonly the 3rd-generation cephalosporin, ceftriaxone (n=15).

The prevalence rates of HAI and antimicrobial use in surgery wards at QECH are relatively high. Hospital infection prevention and control measures need to be strengthened to reduce the burden of HAI at QECH.

Facilitators, barriers and potential solutions to the integration of depression and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) care in Malawi: a qualitative study with service providers

Integration of depression services into infectious disease care is feasible, acceptable, and effective in sub-Saharan African settings. However, while the region shifts focus to include chronic diseases, additional information is required to integrate depression services into chronic disease settings. We assessed service providers’ views on the concept of integrating depression care into non-communicable diseases’ (NCD) clinics in Malawi. The aim of this analysis was to better understand barriers, facilitators, and solutions to integrating depression into NCD services.

Between June and August 2018, we conducted nineteen in-depth interviews with providers. Providers were recruited from 10 public hospitals located within the central region of Malawi (i.e., 2 per clinic, with the exception of one clinic where only one provider was interviewed because of scheduling challenges). Using a semi structured interview guide, we asked participants questions related to their understanding of depression and its management at their clinic. We used thematic analysis allowing for both inductive and deductive approach. Themes that emerged related to facilitators, barriers and suggested solutions to integrate depression assessment and care into NCD clinics. We used CFIR constructs to categorize the facilitators and barriers.

Almost all providers knew what depression is and its associated signs and symptoms. Almost all facilities had an NCD-dedicated room and reported that integrating depression into NCD care was feasible. Facilitators of service integration included readiness to integrate services by the NCD providers, availability of antidepressants at the clinic. Barriers to service integration included limited knowledge and lack of training regarding depression care, inadequacy of both human and material resources, high workload experienced by the providers and lack of physical space for some depression services especially counseling. Suggested solutions were training of NCD staff on depression assessment and care, engaging hospital leaders to create an NCD and depression care integration policy, integrating depression information into existing documents, increasing staff, and reorganizing clinic flow.

Findings of this study suggest a need for innovative implementation science solutions such as reorganizing clinic flow to increase the quality and duration of the patient-provider interaction, as well as ongoing trainings and supervisions to increase clinical knowledge.

Management of prolonged first stage of labour in a low-resource setting: lessons learnt from rural Malawi

Caesarean sections without medical indication cause substantial maternal and perinatal ill-health, particularly in low-income countries where surgery is often less safe. In presence of adequate labour monitoring and by appropriate use of evidence-based interventions for prolonged first stage of labour, unnecessary caesarean sections can be avoided. We aim to describe the incidence of prolonged first stage of labour and the use of amniotomy and augmentation with oxytocin in a low-resource setting in Malawi.

Retrospective analysis of medical records and partographs of all women who gave birth in 2015 and 2016 in a rural mission hospital in Malawi. Primary outcomes were incidence of prolonged first stage of labour based on partograph tracings, caesarean section indications and utilization of amniotomy and oxytocin augmentation.

Out of 3246 women who gave birth in the study period, 178 (5.2%) crossed the action line in the first stage of labour, of whom 21 (11.8%) received oxytocin to augment labour. In total, 645 women gave birth by caesarean section, of whom 241 (37.4%) with an indication ‘prolonged first stage of labour’. Only 113 (46.9%) of them crossed the action line and in 71/241 (29.5%) membranes were still intact at the start of caesarean section. Excluding the 60 women with prior caesarean sections, 14/181 (7.7%) received oxytocin prior to caesarean section for augmentation of labour.

The diagnosis prolonged first stage of labour was often made without being evident from labour tracings and two basic obstetric interventions to prevent caesarean section, amniotomy and labour augmentation with oxytocin, were underused.

The unmet need for treatment of children with musculoskeletal impairment in Malawi

Background More than a billion people globally are living with disability and the prevalence is likely to increase rapidly in the coming years in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). The vast majority of those living with disability are children residing in LMICs. There is very little reliable data on the epidemiology of musculoskeletal impairments (MSIs) in children and even less is available for Malawi

Methods Clusters were selected across the whole country through probability proportional to size sampling with an urban/rural and demographic split that matched the national distribution of the population. Clusters were distributed around all 27-mainland districts of Malawi. Population of Malawi was 18.3 million from 2018 estimates, based on age categories we estimated that about 8.9 million were 16 years and younger. MSI diagnosis from our randomized sample was extrapolated to the population of Malawi, confidence limits was calculated using normal approximation.

Results Of 3,792 children aged 16 or less who were enumerated, 3,648 (96.2%) were examined and 236 were confirmed to have MSI, giving a prevalence of MSI of 6.5% (CI 5.7-7.3). Extrapolated to the Malawian population this means as many as 576,000 (95% CI 505,000-647,000) children could be living with MSI in Malawi. Overall, 46% of MSIs were due to congenital causes, 34% were neurological in origin, 8.4% were due to trauma, 7.8% were acquired non-traumatic non-infective causes, and 3.4% were due to infection. We estimated a total number of 112,000 (80,000-145,000) children in need of Prostheses and Orthoses (P&O), 42,000 (22,000-61,000) in need of mobility aids (including 37,000 wheel chairs), 73,000 (47,000-99,000) in need of medication, 59,000 (35,000-82,000) in need of physical therapy, and 20,000 (6,000-33,000) children in need of orthopaedic surgery. Low parents’ educational level was one factor associated with an increased risk of MSI

Conclusion This survey has uncovered a large burden of MSI among children aged 16 and under in Malawi. The burden of musculoskeletal impairment in Malawi is mostly unattended, revealing a need to scale up both P&O services, physical & occupational therapy, and surgical services in the country

Quality improvement training for burn care in low-and middle-income countries: A pilot course for nurses

There is an urgent need to empower practitioners to undertake quality improvement (QI) projects in burn services in low-middle income countries (LMICs). We piloted a course aimed to equip nurses working in these environments with the knowledge and skills to undertake such projects.

Eight nurses from five burns services across Malawi and Ethiopia took part in this pilot course, which was evaluated using a range of methods, including interviews and focus group discussions.

Course evaluations reported that interactive activities were successful in supporting participants to devise QI projects. Appropriate online platforms were integral to creating a community of practice and maintaining engagement. Facilitators to a successful QI project were active individuals, supportive leadership, collaboration, effective knowledge sharing and demonstrable advantages of any proposed change. Barriers included: staff attitudes, poor leadership, negative culture towards training, resource limitations, staff rotation and poor access to information to guide practice.

The course demonstrated that by bringing nurses together, through interactive teaching and online forums, a supportive community of practice can be created. Future work will include investigating ways to scale up access to the course so staff can be supported to initiate and lead quality improvement in LMIC burn services.