Our Volunteer Audiologist, Dr Courtney Caron, reflects on three and a half years in Malawi and the team’s progress at QECH’s Audiology Clinic
“A lot has changed since I first arrived in Malawi, in 2014, to create a comprehensive audiology service in Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH). We has three clinicians working out of one tiny, hot room in the ENT unit. Limited services were available and there was definitely much room for improvement in clinical practice. Documentation of patient interactions was essentially non-existent. There were few supplies or equipment needed to help the thousands of patients in Malawi.
Flash forward, three and half years to where we are today (August 2017) I’m sitting in the air conditioned training room of the new QECH Audiology Clinic working on this blog post. The audiology team now consists of 11 members, we have a freestanding comprehensive audiology clinic within the grounds of the hospital and regular outreach services to the most vulnerable patients. I have a large white board in front of me with the next year of events laid out, it’s crazy for me to think I will not be here for all that time.
The audiology clinic is in full swing this morning, the waiting room was full before 8am. There are clinicians, including one of Malawi’s first audiologists, serving patients in three different examination rooms. One completing a sedated test on a young girl from Mozambique, her family travelled to Malawi because there are no audiology services in their home country. Another clinician is preforming a hearing test on a factory worker who works in noise all day and the last counselling a patient on their new hearing aids. My audiology intern is sitting behind me programming hearing aids for a patient that is in the waiting room because all the other exam rooms are occupied. I am consulted when needed on difficult cases but something I am most proud of is the level of independence of the clinicians and knowing their own limitations.
Working to improve audiology in Malawi has been my entire life for the past three and a half years, I can’t imagine what my life will be like once I leave. Although there is still much to be done, I am already preparing the local staff for my departure in April next year, slowly handing over responsibilities and tasks. I am confident in their abilities continue to the high standard of care that has been created. I know that once I leave Malawi that the clinic will be in good hands and that Malawians with hearing loss will receive the care that they need for many years to come”
Helen, a Hearing Aid Audiologist from Boots Hearingcare, visited our Hearing Aid Refurbishment Project (HARP) in Zambia for a week in March 2017
“I spent one week volunteering for Sound Seekers and Hear the World at the Hearing Aid Refurbishment Project (HARP) at Beit Cure hospital in Lusaka, Zambia. I helped to reorganise the room used for the HARP project, took part in refurbishment of the hearing aids and trained staff on areas they felt they could improve. I also observed and assisted with the ENT/audiology service at the hospital when needed.
Although my volunteering placement was only short I feel it have opened my eyes as to how audiology is being practised in Africa and the limits the staff encounter with regard to resources, training and support.
I enjoyed working with everyone at the hospital and also with Bhavisha, who although is based at a different hospital was able to support me throughout the week. On the Wednesday I assisted her paint the clinic room she is going to use at University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka for a new paediatric audiology service. She is working extremely hard and I admire her motivation and determination to get this off the ground. It was also a pleasure to spend time with Victoria, the senior teacher at the Rotary school for children with disabilities and deafness, which is where the service will be based.
The experience I had in Lusaka is something I will never forget and I am grateful for the opportunity to do what I could to help with the project. The HARP project is vital to ensure that those who are diagnosed with a hearing loss have access to a good quality, working hearing aid. The time I spent there has really made me appreciate what a difference this Sound Seekers project can make to those suffering from hearing loss in Zambia and how it can change peoples lives.”
Lisa, a clinical specialist from Advanced Bionics UK, visited our Targeted Paediatric Screening project in Zambia for a week in February 2017
“I spent one week working with Sound Seekers in Lusaka, Zambia. The project I was assisting with aims to implement a targeted paediatric screening project and comprehensive diagnostic follow up at Zambia’s largest hospital, the University Teaching Hospital (UTH).
I worked very closely with Sound Seekers volunteer Bhavisha who is working on this project for 12 months. Although one week is a relatively short period of time, it was amazing how much we were able to achieve in that time. The hospital is already well established, and the hospital staff were very supportive of Sound Seekers project. Hospital staff understood the need for this project and many offered to lend a hand. It is clear that the success of this project lies in educating local staff to make it self-sustainable when Bhavisha leaves.
I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to support this project in its infancy. I am excited to see how this project progresses and to see the change it will make for so many children in Zambia. There is a famous saying, “Save one life and you save a world” and that could not be more true here. Early diagnosis of hearing loss and intervention equates to a better quality of life, without exception. This project has the power to change a lot of lives. What an incredible initiative. Thank you to Sound Seekers, Hear the World, Bhavisha and all the other people and charities that have made this project possible.”
Jenny, a HR specialist from Sonova AG in Switzerland, visited our Malawi Audiology Clinic in Blantyre for a week in February 2017
“Between the 6th and the 10th of February 2017, I had the unique opportunity to volunteer for Hear the World and Sound Seekers in Blantyre, Malawi. The main aim of my assignment was to help Mirriam (clinic manager) to settle into her new role and establish effective administrative systems for the clinic. I absolutely enjoyed working together with the employees of the clinic. They are all very friendly, helpful and willing to give their best to run the clinic. Mirriam and I worked hard during this week and handled all the tasks we had planned. On my very last day in Malawi, I had the opportunity to go to a village outside of the town together with 3 audiologists to fit some hearing aids – this was really one of the most impressive moments in my life. It was fantastic for me to see how the audiologists did the ear moulds for each patient and how the whole fitting process worked. The people were very excited when they finally got their hearing aid. When I look back at my assignment in Malawi, I can’t help smiling. It was a fantastic experience for me which gave me a lot of motivation for my job. When you work in an office as an HR professional, you are far away from your company’s products and customers. This assignment helped me to have a more detailed view on our company and on my job. It showed me how we make an impact on people’s lives and that we really help people enjoy the delight of hearing.”
Bhavisha’s Year in Zambia – January to December 2017
Our brilliant volunteer Bhavisha embarked on her year long trip to Zambia to support our work in January 2017..
She graduated from University College London in 2012 with a BSc in Audiology and has since worked extensively with both the adult and paediatric population in both private and NHS sectors. Her most recent role was Senior Paediatric Audiologist with Hounslow and Richmond Community NHS trust where she lead hearing assessments of children and young people of all ages, fitted hearing aids and networked with a vast multidisciplinary team to ensure holistic and comprehensive care of children with hearing impairment as well as their families.
She has recently completed her MSc in Advanced Audiology and has previously volunteered in India providing health camps with Raleigh International, fundraised for various charities by running marathons and organised events to raise awareness of hearing impairment. Throughout her experiences she has been inspired to link her passion of audiology and development work together and this lead her to volunteer with Sound Seekers for one year in Zambia from January until December 2017.
Bhavisha will be supporting many projects in Zambia including Targeted Paediatric Screening, Hearing Aid Refurbishment Project (HARP) and Diploma course!
Renee, an audiologist from Australia, supported our Malawi Audiology Clinic in Blantyre for three months in January – April 2016
“2016 got off to a great start. I was privileged with the opportunity to volunteer with Sound Seekers in Malawi for three months. The team at Sound Seekers, in the UK and in Malawi, was fantastic in preparing me for the trip and providing support throughout.
My time in Malawi was my first time in an African Country. I have previously worked in remote areas of Australia with limited resources and high incidences of poor ear and hearing health. I knew Malawi was going to be quite different, but felt my previous experiences helped to prepare me for what lay ahead.
My role was to work with the Audiology Officers and provide training, particularly with Paediatric patients (electrophysiology, VRA, Play Audiometry). The biggest challenge I faced was my ability to refer Deaf patients on for other services due to the lack of resources available. My skills of adaptability and flexibility were definitely enhanced in this role.
There were many highlights to the experience. Working with a wonderful, dedicated group of clinicians (Malawian and international), learning about Malawian culture and a few words in Chichewa, meeting people from all over the world, and having the opportunity to explore the country on weekends.
This experience has opened my eyes to the principals of Global Health and introduced me to a Country and Continent I knew little about, whilst making some amazing friends along the way. I would definitely recommend volunteering to anyone who is seeking a sense of adventure and both personal and professional growth.
I would like to thank Sound Seekers, Dr. Courtney Caron and the listeners at BBC Radio 4 for all their support.”
Minal, a Trainee Audiological Scientist at King Edward VII Hospital, supported the audiology team in Ndola, Zambia in July 2014
“I recently volunteered for Sound Seekers and travelled to Zambia as a part of my Elective for my NHS Clinical Scientist Training Programme (STP) for 4 weeks. Sound Seekers are working with the Zambian Ministry of Health to support the establishment of a basic Audiology service in Ndola Central Hospital (NCH), in the Copperbelt region of Zambia.
I supported the Audiology team at NCH to run their current Audiology services and to help the team establish a Hearing Aid Fitting Service by training them on how to fit hearing aids – none of the team members had any practical experience with this before. During my visit the main objective was to fit as many patients with hearing aids as possible.
Audiology aside, I got to spend time with wonderful humble people who I feel privileged to have met. We worked consistently as a team and as a big family supporting one another and I am thankful to everyone in the Sound Seekers team who welcomed me with open arms. This definitely will be an experience I won’t forget. If you get an opportunity to volunteer I urge you to do so as it definitely will be a worthwhile experience for everyone involved!”
Chereece Andrews, an Audiologist from the Texas Children’s Hospital, visited Kumasi, Ghana in December 2013 to support our project.
“I spent two weeks working with Sound Seekers in Kumasi, Ghana, the capital of the Ashanti region. The Hearing Assessment Centre on the campus of the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital (KATH) is the base for the services Sounds Seekers provides. There, I met HARK! (mobile outreach audiology service) team members – nurses, doctors, professors, and students who graciously cared for me as if I were family, kindling a blaze of unforgettable experiences. After meeting the seven students of the new MSc program, we together decided on which topics they wanted me to lecture. The students were very eager to learn, expressing how grateful they were for the lectures even though I had never lectured before. After each lecture, the students got to have hands-on clinic practice. Altogether, it was a very rewarding experience for me. In fact, I hope I can have the opportunity to lecture again someday.”
Conor Boland, an Audiologist at Barnet and Chase Farm NHS Trust and Trustee for Action On Hearing Loss, volunteered for two weeks in October 2013 to help establish a new audiology service in Cameroon.
“I spent 2 weeks at Mbingo Baptist Hospital in Cameroon, working with the ENT department setting up an Audiology service, and training one of the nurses to fit hearing aids. Within a couple of days of arrival, the team and I were able to start seeing patients and making an impact; most of the equipment already there was either too old or broken beyond repair, however we were able to salvage a tympanometer and make some temporary ear tips out of impression material.
We had to adapt a lot to difficult circumstances. We had some brand new equipment which we set up readily, and the rest we got working using tape (everything can be fixed with tape to some degree), pipe cleaners (to make hooks to hang equipment on), glue, pieces of bent metal and sheer will power to get things up and running. By the end of the first week everything was in place, and our work was well received by the community. Most of the people arriving at the clinic were severely to profoundly deaf, and infinitely grateful of the service.
Overall, the support provided by Sound Seekers was crucial to making the project happen out there, and I’m extremely grateful they were able to send me. The experience of going to an undeveloped country where people have very little is eye opening, and I’ll remember it wherever I end up practising in years to come. I would recommend any hearing professional looking to make a difference to work with Sound Seekers, and go out on a trip”
Dawn Wilkinson, an Audiologist at St George’s Hospital in Tooting, South London, lectured on the Diploma in Audiology at the University of Nairobi in June 2013.
“I spent two weeks at the University of Nairobi teaching students of the Diploma in Audiology course. Sound Seekers and CBM are both sponsoring students from various African counties to attend the course and in total there were 8 students in the group. I was tasked with teaching them about paediatric audiology and digital hearing aids. Being my first trip to Africa I was a little nervous about traveling on my own, but from the moment I arrived in Nairobi I was warmly welcomed. All of the students were very keen to learn and I encouraged them to interact and ask questions during the lectures, we covered some of the basics like history taking and otoscopy before moving on the theory and practical aspects of paediatric testing. Resources were sparse so we made the best of what we had and practiced skills on each other.”
Laura Finegold, a Trainee Audiological Scientist at King Edward VII Hospital volunteered in The Gambia in May 2013 for her six week elective.
“I recently volunteered for Sound Seekers in The Gambia as part of my NHS Clinical Scientist Training Programme (STP) for 6 weeks. I was required to raise £2,000 to fund this, which although it seemed daunting at first turned out to be relatively easy thanks to the generosity of my colleagues, friends, patients and family. I found my time in The Gambia invaluable, as well as being able to make a huge impact in terms of training and improving patient care. I also feel I learnt and developed my own personal skills, particularly in terms of problem solving, developing protocols and improving confidence in my own abilities.
The realities of providing an audiology service in a developing country with no audiologists such as The Gambia is markedly different from providing services in the NHS. Having said this, by volunteering even a small amount of time such as a couple of weeks I feel volunteers can make a huge difference and provide the local staff with additional knowledge and training. This will then allow them to provide a more efficient and safer service to patients.
I would encourage anybody who is thinking of volunteering for Sound Seekers to get in touch as it will be a truly unique and rewarding experience not just for the staff in their projects but for you personally.”
Jan Doran, Manager of a Newborn Hearing Service in Herefordshire, volunteered in Makeni, Sierra Leone, to assist in the implementation of a screening programme for children that may have hearing loss.
“I was unsure what to expect, but Sound Seekers and Monica (the Audiologist based at St Joseph’s School for the Hearing Impaired in Makeni) gave me lots of helpul advice and support. Sound Seekers are funding an Indian Nurse, Sajeesh George Mathew, for twelve months to implement the screening programme. This role started in October, but he had been in Makeni prior to this, working at the Loreto Clinic as a nurse and had a good relationship with many of the staff and an understanding of the work situation. Kerry Downes, an audiologist from St Georges, had visited just before me and had already organised an appropriate room and had held sensitisation meetings with relevant local staff.
It was a straightforward process to train Sajeesh (the nurse heading up the screening programme) in the use of the equipment and together we made a service plan of implementation, role description, screening protocols, referral pathways, posters for publicity, report documents etc. and ran some training sessions for the local staff who will eventually take over the programme.
During the two weeks I was there we had a few little hiccups – the screening equipment didn’t survive the high humidity of Makeni; patients did not always turn up for the diagnostic appointments; intermittent power failures sometimes meant that testing could not be carried out. However as a result of the screening project, more deaf children are being identified, all requiring audiological support and educational opportunities. In Sierra Leone, with only two schools for deaf children and no fully qualified audiologists, providing this support is a huge challenge.
It was an amazing trip to Makeni and one I won’t forget.”