Sound Seekers trains first ever Malawian audiologists

19th September 2016 - Sound Seekers, a small and unique UK charity dedicated to help deaf people in the developing world learn and earn, celebrates International Week of the Deaf (19-25 September) as two Malawian students sponsored by the charity to attend Manchester University return home to be the country's first ever qualified audiologists, making Malawi a leader in audiology in sub-Saharan Africa. 

As part of a four year programme to establish a whole new audiology service that will eventually be run by local professionals, Sound Seekers used part of its funding to send two Malawian health practitioners to complete an MSc in Audiology at Manchester University. Mwanaisha Jauza Phiri and Chikondi Chabaluka are now returning to Malawi having gained a wealth of experience and knowledge that will enable them to support and develop the audiology services in their country.

The two Malawian graduates will work alongside audiologist, Dr Courtney Caron, who is half-way through a four-year volunteering placement with Sound Seekers at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) in Blantyre. As well as providing audiology services, Dr Caron has been focused on project managing the planning and building of a brand new audiology clinic funded by Sound Seekers. The clinic, which was officially opened by Malawi's Minister of Health, Dr Kumpalume, on 5th May 2016, provides a well-resourced, comprehensive audiology service to the local community and beyond. It is anticipated that the clinic will be able to treat thousands of people over the next ten years who wouldn't otherwise have access to audiology services and ear and hearing care.

Dr Caron, who will continue to lead the service for a further 18 months to support and supervise both Malawian audiologists, explained: "Training local health practitioners like Mwanaisha and Chikondi to deliver long-term, sustainable services is integral to Sound Seekers' work. It is expected that after this period of supervision, the graduates will be able to take over and further develop the service, testing for levels of hearing loss and providing properly fitted hearing aids. They will be able to support each other, train up other colleagues and create a critical mass for determining and delivering high standards of audiology care."

The incidence of deafness is much higher in the developing world than in the UK but there is much less support available to prevent hearing loss and to help those affected. In the UK there is one audiologist for every 25,000 people, but in Malawi, until Sound Seekers' intervention, there were no local audiologists for a population of over 17 million people.

Moving to the UK for nearly a year and studying at Master Levels was a significant cultural and personal challenge for the students, particularly Mwanaisha, who is married with four children and had to leave her family behind. Sound Seekers worked hard to ensure the students were well supported during their time in the UK and maintained regular contact. Both students made the most of their year at Manchester and are full of enthusiasm to take their new skills and ideas back to Malawi to further develop and improve the level of audiological care in their country.  

Many people are already benefiting from the audiology services put in place by Sound Seekers in recent years including nine-year-old Remi Chumbanga who lives in Blantyre, Malawi. He has severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss. When he was seven years old he was fitted with hearing aids and was really excited that he could finally hear. However, last year, he complained about problems with his ears and was referred to the audiology clinic at QECH. Last month, Dr Caron fitted him with new hearing aids, donated by Hear the World Foundation, and now he is very happy. His mother, Maggie Chumbanga, said: "When Remi couldn't hear, it was difficult to communicate with him.  We just had to use hand gestures but now he can use some words. He really likes his new hearing aids." With good access to sound and improved communication skills Remi should have good prospects for both social inclusion and an economically independent life.

Malawi is not the only African country that works in partnership with Sound Seekers to develop audiology services. Last year the charity also sponsored nine individuals from Cameroon, The Gambia and Zambia as well as Malawi, to qualify as Hearing Instrument Specialists. Three have already been trained at The Hearing Training Institute in Zambia and have returned to their local hospitals, where they are providing quality audiology services and support to their communities. The other six will complete their course in December 2016 before returning home to their work in audiology.