Surgery must be central—Nyengo

Nyengo Mkandawire has joined the elite ranks of full professors. Last week, he presented an inaugural lecture at Comesa Hall in Blantyre to mark his entry into the fold of academic giants. Mkandawire shares his thoughts on his rise in the academic world with Lucky Mkandawire.

Who is Professor Nyengo Mkandawire?

I am Nyengo Chiswakhata Mkandawire. Husband to Mary Chimangu Mkandawire (Nee Katenga), a public health physician, career guidance expert and leadership consultant. Father to one daughter, Tapoka, currently studying molecular biology at Manchester University in United Kingdom. Professor of orthopaedic surgery and head of surgery at the College of Medicine, University of Malawi.

Tell us about your family background.

My Father, Orison Ian ‘Boma’ Mkandawire, now retired, was a teacher, civil servant/administrator, and also served as a Member of Parliament.  My mother, now late, was a primary school teacher. I am fifth born in a family of seven siblings, one brother now deceased. There were five brothers and two twin sisters. I come from Chihoro Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Chikulamayembe in Livingstonia in Rumphi. My father, being a civil servant, meant that the family moved around quite a bit within Malawi. I was born in Ntcheu on January 17 1964 and grew up at Mpemba in Blantyre, Lilongwe and Zomba.

How about your educational background?

Primary Education: Between 1969 and 1977, I did my primary education at Mpemba, Dharap, Mphungu, Limbe, and Osman Gani primary schools in Blantyre, Lilongwe and Zomba.

Secondary Education: Between 1977 and 1981 I did my secondary education at Bandawe, Rumphi and Nkhata Bay secondary schools. In 1981, I was amongst the first group of A-Level students selected to the Kamuzu Academy as founding students, finishing my A-levels in 1983.

Tertiary Education: Between 1983 and 1985 I joined University of Malawi, Chancellor College, to do a BSc (Hons) majoring in chemistry. I did not finish the programme as I was offered an Australian Government scholarship to study medicine at Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia from 1985 to 1990.

After graduating in 1990, I did one year of internship at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and returned to Malawi in 1992 and worked as a junior doctor at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre until 1994. During this time, I developed a keen interest in orthopaedic surgery under the mentorship of the late Dr Edward Blair, an orthopaedic surgeon.

In 1994, a visiting orthopaedic surgeon form the UK, Mr Dalton Boot, facilitated my admission to the Northwest/Mersey Deanery orthopaedic training programme where I did orthopaedic surgery from 1995 to 1999. I obtained a Master of Surgery in Orthopaedics from Liverpool University. I returned to Malawi at the turn of the millennium in December 1999.

I am also a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England; a Foundation Fellow of the College of Surgeons of East Central and Southern Africa (COSECSA) and a Fellow of Federation for Advancement in Medical Education and Research (FAIMER).

You are a professor of orthopaedic surgery and also head of the Department of Surgery at College of Medicine in the University of Malawi. What does your work entail?

As a clinician and academic, my role combines provision of clinical service at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, teaching undergraduate as well as postgraduate students in orthopaedics and doing research.  As head of department of surgery, I oversee the delivery of surgical services at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital.

Last week you gave a professorial inaugural lecture at Comesa International Conference Centre in Blantyre. Would you share with us what that lecture was all about?

It is a lecture to honour those who attain the academic post of professor in the University of Malawi by giving them a chance to speak about the area of expertise.

It is generally perceived by the public that surgery is very expensive and is not a public health issue, but during your lecture you indicated that surgery is very cost-effective and adds value. Can you expound?

Surgery can be expensive on the high technology end of the spectrum and capital investment can be expensive. However, most surgical conditions common in our environment can be dealt with reasonably cheap and cost-effectively and this is the message I wanted to come out of my talk. I tried to show that surgical intervention are just as cost-effective as traditional public health interventions such as immunisation programmes and yet funding for surgery is not as forthcoming when compared to the public health programme. I tried to show that surgery must be central to all public health initiatives.

When you are not wearing that hat of head of the Department of Surgery at College of Medicine, what do you do?

I love sports, football in particular. A long-suffering fan of Arsenal in the English Premiership and I love Bullets at home. I love keeping fit by jogging and exercising at the stadium. I love news and current affairs and try to keep up to date on what’s happening in the world. Most just like chilling with the family and having extended driving holidays in the southern Africa Region in my trusty Land Rover.

Your last words.

I would firstly want to thank God for my life and the many blessings he has bestowed on me. My wife and daughter for the love and support that has sustained me to get where I am. My parents and extended family for the love and encouragement. My work colleagues for mentorship. Such a journey is not possible without such kind of support. I would also like to encourage the younger doctors to aim and attain their goals; it is possible and it is my aim to support and mentor them too as I have been.

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