Some people might not know who anaesthetists are, but these are physicians who administer anaesthesia prior to, during or after surgery to patients. Anaesthesiologist takes care of patients during surgery.
Delia Mabedi-Munthali equally had no clue who an anaesthesiologist was when she joined the College of Medicine in 2002.
“I only came to know much about anaesthesia after my anaesthesia rotation in my fourth-year of medical training. The lecturers were amazing. I enjoyed myself and that was when I got interested. I remember the following year trying to identify a research topic in anaesthesia for my thesis. Unfortunately, I could not get one on time,” she says.
She did not stop there, years later, when an advert for the anaesthesiologists came up; she did not hesitate to apply.
Now she is one of the only four qualified anaesthesiologists in the country and she and Singatiya Chikumbanje are the only qualified females out of the four.
“We meet patients before the surgery, to get to know them. It means knowing what surgery they are coming for; any other medical problems they have and the medication they are on, among other things.
“Then we examine our patients, order investigations and plan for anaesthesia. We put patients to sleep for surgery and help them wake up from their sleep. Sometimes we keep the surgery patients awake, but we ensure that they do not feel any pain. It is our duty to ensure that patients are safe, free from pain and anxiety throughout surgery,” explains Mabedi-Munthali currently working at Zomba Central Hospital as an anaesthetic consultant.
Anaesthetists also take care of the very sick patients in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Sometimes they are called to assist in caring for the very sick in the wards, in what she describes as ‘very satisfying’.
“It involves a lot of planning. I like the fact that you, actually, see how happy patients are after you help them. And it is also fulfilling and encouraging when I, actually, see some critically ill patients under my care getting better,” she says.
Having said that, she does not fall short of mentioning that they also have some bad days.
“Even with all the preparations, having to deal with very complicated patients is not always easy. Secondly, shortage of staff and resources is a huge challenge. There is only so much that one can do with what one has,” she explains.
Mabedi-Munthali is also the first female chairperson of the Society of Anaesthesiologists, a non-profit organisation aimed at addressing the needs of the anaesthesiologists and other anaesthesia providers across the country.
Although it was established over 45 years ago, it has just been revived and was officially launched a few weeks ago, with the idea of, among other things, uniting anaesthesiologists, creating a forum to exchange ideas, challenges and find solutions; formulate standards, protocols and organise refresher courses in anaesthesia and intensive care.
The launch was done alongside the society’s first annual conference under the theme ‘Saving the lives of mothers: Obstetric anaesthesia and critical care in Malawi’.
“Members will include anaesthesiologists working in the country and abroad, other anaesthesia providers and anyone else who has interest in anaesthesia,” says the chairperson.
She adds that the society is currently affiliated with the College of Anaesthesiologists of East, Central and Southern Africa (Canesca) and the World Federation Societies of Anaesthesiologists (WFSA).
On why they thought of reviving the society, the determined and strong-willed young woman says they would like the nation to know about anaesthesia and help the profession grow.
“Despite that our work is usually life saving, it often goes without notice. The biggest challenge at the moment is that there are very few people in the profession, regardless of the need for more. We are talking of four anaesthesiologists and about 250 anaesthesia clinical officers throughout the country. The society would help to raise awareness on these fronts,” she says.
She believes there is a lot that people do not know as far as anaesthesia in Malawi is concerned. As such, she sees the society as a body that will advise on such issues.
“I also see the society formulating evidence-based guidelines and protocols in various aspects of patient management as far as anaesthesia is concerned. This will, actually, help improve the quality of anaesthesia care to our patients,” she says.
Mabedi-Munthali attended the College of Medicine, University of Malawi and became a doctor in 2007.
She joined the College of Medicine (CoM) in 2002 as a premedical (premed) sciences student. She did her Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) degrees from 2003 to 2007.
Upon completing her training, she went for internship at Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) for 18 months before joining Lilongwe District Health Office as district medical officer for a year. In 2010, she enrolled into the Master of Medicine in Anaesthesia and Intensive Care.
The anaesthesiologist was born in Lilongwe to Francis and Liviness Mabedi on January 4 1984. She comes from Milambo Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Kapeni in Blantyre.
She comes from a family of two brothers— Emmanuel and Charles, and two sisters—Francisca and Esther. She says growing up with her two brothers taught her to be brave and responsible.
Mabedi-Munthali grew up in Lilongwe where she had her earliest years of education at Chimutu, Chatuwa and Nankhaka primary schools before going to Ludzi Girls Primary School in Mchinji.
“I was then selected to Ludzi Girls Secondary School, which taught me a lot about independence being a boarding school and this is something I thank my parents for today,” she says.
She and her husband Kondwani Munthali have two children.
“We got married in 2011 and had our first-born son, Khumbolithu Gabriel. Our daughter Oriheya Petrina arrived in 2015,” she says.
She admits it is not easy balancing family and work life, but says when you have caring and understanding people around you, it makes things easier.
To the younger girl, she says every person starts from somewhere and never underestimate one’s capabilities. She encourages all girls to work extra hard to achieve their goals.
“They also need to believe in themselves and, of course, trust in God always,” she says.