Published: May 1, 2023

AAO-HNSF Humanitarian Travel Grant Report: Blantyre, Malawi Madgy Malawi Foundation 2022

Learning is bidirectional in Malawi where the people are gracious and full of gratitude.

Steven Engebretsen, DO, Detroit Medical Center/Michigan State University PGY5

Steven Engebretsen, DO, with ENT team in Blantyre, Malawi.Steven Engebretsen, DO, with ENT team in Blantyre, Malawi.

When I started my residency, I knew that a trip with the Madgy Malawi Foundation was an opportunity for me to take. In preparation for this trip, I read up on Malawi and listened to experts on global surgery. After now having spent time on this trip to Blantyre, Malawi, I can say that it is truly difficult to describe the experience and all that it means for both the traveling practitioner and the people of Blantyre. I will do my best to describe three points I would like our otolaryngology community to know about Malawi and the Madgy Malawi Foundation (MMF) trip.

Before (top) and after (bottom) of patients in the ENT ward treated for neck masses.Before (top) and after (bottom) of patients in the ENT ward treated for neck masses.First, the people of Malawi are gracious and full of gratitude. They have been called the “Heart of Africa” due to their warm nature and kindness. Many of these wonderful people travel for days on foot to obtain care at the only otolaryngology clinic in the southern part of the country. They also may wait for weeks to be treated for a condition they have been burdened with for years. For example, four sweet women all arrived at similar times and became friends in the ENT ward. Each of them had various thyroid pathologies. They were all liberated of their neck masses without complication. This friendly and patient attitude was common among the people treated during our time in Blantyre.

Second, learning is bidirectional. The only practicing otolaryngologist in the country, Dr. Wakisa Mulwafu, hosts several Malawi-based residents. These residents train for three years in general surgery and then three years in otolaryngology. These are true ENT pioneers in their country, taking on as complicated cases as they can handle with limited resources and yet still finding success. The senior ENT resident in Malawi, Dr. Tabeh Freeman, will be the first otolaryngology provider in his home country of Liberia. His knowledge of conditions and experience was impressive, to say the least. It was obvious he was setting the trend for his junior trainees. Not only was he a pleasure to work with in the operating suite, but he also helped us navigate the medical decision-making culture and logistical challenges of the hospital. 

Third, there is more to do than just surgery. This was probably best exemplified by Dr. Jaishree Palanisamy, who would take any extra food we had from our team dinners each night to feed the patients on the ENT ward and their families. Actually, each resident and the MMF team found ways to share personally with the people there. There are numerous opportunities to assist these wonderful people and their incredible local medical providers.

With help from many in our community, I anticipate the MMF will blossom even more in the upcoming years. All those involved can attest to the real benefits being both provided and experienced. Thanks to the generosity of the AAO-HNSF Humanitarian Travel Grant and others, this time will go down as one of my most defining personal and career experiences.