Wiston’s Story – Meeting the needs of a nation

Published on 14 August 2020

When Wiston Mukiwa graduated from the University of Dundee and returned to Malawi, he was one of only three dentists in his country. Since then, he has spent his career driving forward dental healthcare provision across Malawi.

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“It does not matter for the next twenty years how many dentists you churn out of the Dental School, it will have no effect out in the rural periphery”. Winston spoke these words in 2019, addressing the lack of access that many rural Malawians have to emergency dental treatment. Malawi has for many years been challenged by an acute shortage of healthcare professionals and, in particular, oral healthcare professionals.

This would be a challenge that Wiston has spent his career trying to meet, starting with his decision to study dentistry in the UK. He had already obtained his undergraduate qualification at the Welsh National School of Medicine in Cardiff in 1972. When he decided to study for his Masters in Dentistry, getting the right mix of research and teaching to help him meet his needs and the needs of Malawi was therefore essential. The University of Dundee met this criteria and he moved to the east coast of Scotland in the early eighties.

Dundee soon became a home from home for Wiston as he settled into the city. He fondly remembers shopping in the Wellgate Centre as well as enjoying the classic British culinary extravaganza, a Steak and Kidney pie. A church elder in Inchture and working part-time at a local dental practise, Wiston very much enjoyed his community. His patients even gave him his own Scottish name ‘Dr McEwan’, a Dundonian alternative to his surname “Mukiwa”.

Graduating in 1984, Wiston soon returned to Malawi to be appointed as a government dentist in Lilongwe, one of only three dentists in the country at the time. But it wasn’t long before he was leading the charge on meeting the dental skills shortage, setting up programmes to train dental therapists in the role of Principal of the Malawi College of Health Sciences. He was later appointed as Secretary for Health and Population in Malawi where he was responsible for tackling a legion of health issues, including managing the impact of the HIV-Aids pandemic in Malawi.

Yet, it was through his work with NGO’s that Wiston’s path crossed again with his alma mater.

As Secretary of the Dental Association for Malawi, Wiston is well-placed for bringing internal organisation and local bodies together to bridge the gap in dental healthcare provision.

a group pf people sitting on chairs in a circle

Through his involvement in the Maldent Project, whose partners include the University of Dundee and the University of Glasgow, Wiston contributed to the establishment of Malawi’s first dental school, which sits within the University of Malawi. The first students of this dental school commenced their studies in September 2019, and many will be taught by Wiston, a part-time lecturer at the University.

The Dental Association of Malawi has also partnered with the UK Ngo, Bridge2Aid, to develop a programme that would train local healthcare professionals in isolated and rural areas to provide simple emergency dental treatment. This programme provides a sustainable model through which those trained will go on to train the next generation of healthcare professionals in country.

Andrew Paterson, Senior Lecturer at the University of Dundee’s Dental School, is a trustee and regular volunteer for Bridge2Aid and met with Wiston in November 2019 to see the Bridge2Aid Dental Programme in action in the Rorya District of Tanzania’s Mara Region. Before the Bridge2Aid programme, the Rorya District had no dental staff or facilities for a population of 300,000. Wiston witnessed three days of the programme and wrote a report on his observations, recommending that the programme be delivered in Malawi. The ball started rolling and in June 2020, Bridge2Aid in partnership with the Dental Association of Malawi, the University of Dundee and Scottish NGO Smileawi won a grant from the Tropical Health Education Trust to set up the programme in Malawi. With Andrew leading the pilot programme, Wistons and two Smileawi dentists will be trained by six medical assistants in emergency dentistry.

In conversation with Andrew, Wiston described how his Dundee education gave him the opportunity to better appreciate the pivotal role of public health to a population’s oral and general health, gaining knowledge which he has put into practical use in Malawi for many years.

And even after 36 years of being a University of Dundee graduate, Wiston’s connection to the University still continues through these transformative partnerships he has helped establish. Through his work, Malawi is one step closer to giving access to dental care to everyone.

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