A day in the life of an international audiologist volunteering in Malawi

A day in the life of an international audiologist volunteering in Malawi

Dr Courtney Caron, an Audiologist from the United States takes us through a day in her life as a Sound Seekers volunteer in Malawi.

There is no such thing as a typical day.  Every day is different.  The needs are different.  The patients are different.  What is needed from me is different.  I have to prioritise what is needed most on any particular day.  One thing is for sure though, a day in the life of an audiologist in Malawi is never boring.

Having dodged the chaos of Blantyre’s streets where carts loaded with the fruit of the season, bicycles loaded with charcoal or goats and ladies carrying 20 litres of water on their heads, weave in and out of the traffic.  I spend the first half an hour answering emails from Sound Seekers, audiology equipment manufacturers, potential volunteers, other NGOs and the Ministry of Health.

Patients start arriving around 8am for various appointments: hearing tests, vestibular/balance assessments, ear mould impressions, hearing aid fittings, etc.  There are usually one or two audiology officers taking patient histories and doing various tests but as the only audiologist in Blantyre, I try and review all patients’ tests and recommendations or assist with complex cases.  Patients vary as much as my daily activities.  I may see a 90 year old man with hearing loss due to old age, a three year child who has suffered from cerebral malaria, a 25 year old man with Down’s syndrome or a 40 year old woman who has received an antibiotic that is known to cause hearing loss.  Each patient is different and requires a different way to diagnosis and treat them.  It takes experience and knowledge as well as a little creativity to ensure all patients receive appropriate care.

There is one audiology officer in training and he requires some additional time from me to help with reviewing assignments, understanding intricate ideas or having additional hands-on training in order to help him succeed in his course.  I also have management activities to do in order to keep the Sound Seekers’ project and the audiology department running smoothly.  We are in the process of building a comprehensive audiology clinic so I have to do tasks such as identifying where the electrical outlets should be and sort through quotations to furnish the building.  My day ends around 5pm and I return home through the chaotic streets of Blantyre.

Sound Seekers project brings hope to Malawi

Sound Seekers project brings hope to Malawi

Sound Seekers, a national charity dedicated to helping deaf people in the world’s poorest communities, has recently returned from a week’s visit to Malawi, delivering vital aid to deaf communities. The visit also allowed the team to manage a number of ongoing projects and initiatives, and receive critical updates regarding their recent campaign with Specsavers Hearing Centres.

Sound Seekers’ current projects in Malawi are expected to provide hearing aids to around 2,000 adults and children, along with treating around 7,000 people for other causes of hearing loss. A further 3,500 people will be educated on ear care and hearing loss prevention, reflecting the charity’s commitment to providing sustainable aid and long-term solutions that will continue to benefit communities long after aid workers have returned to the UK. One of the biggest projects, however, is the construction of the country’s first comprehensive audiology service, based at Blantyre’s largest hospital. In addition to constructing the hearing unit, which is expected to serve over 10,000 people in three years, the charity is training African staff to identify and treat hearing loss so that deaf people can go to school and find work.

“We were amazed to see the developments since our last visit,” commented Lucy Carter, CEO, Sound Seekers. “With the help of some fantastic partner organisations and the Government here in Malawi, we are seeing real progress. Along with seeing the new audiology unit take shape, we were able to revisit children who received hearing aids and cochlear implants last year and watch them thriving. One of the children we met only months ago now has such good hearing that he is able to translate for his mother! It’s great to see the benefits of our services extending far beyond just those we are able to meet.”

The visit also provided an opportunity to get an update on the charity’s joint campaign with Specsavers Hearing Centres, initiated earlier this year. The campaign has so far seen thousands of old and unwanted hearing aids collected from Specsavers stores across the UK, before being cleaned, repurposed and redistributed to people in Africa with hearing loss.

“It is a very exciting time for Sound Seekers, as a number of our campaigns have come to fruition and are starting to make a real difference,” continued Carter. “Our recent partnership with Specsavers Hearcare has been hugely successful, and it is immensely rewarding to witness first-hand the benefits of the campaign. Our combined efforts are expected to change the lives of nearly 400,000 people in the community with hearing loss, and we are confident that we are well on the way to building a promising future for audiology in Malawi.”

Specsavers founder, Dame Mary Perkins, also commented: “Living in the UK, we are extremely lucky to have access to such robust hearing healthcare programmes. Overseas, charities like Sound Seekers are providing vital care to those who are not as fortunate. We are delighted to be supporting the great work that Sound Seekers provides in countries like Malawi.”

For more information on this press release email help@sound-seekers.org.uk

Back in East Africa – land of the mouse kebab

Back in East Africa – land of the mouse kebab

Lucy (Sound Seekers CEO) tells us about her first trip to Malawi

My first time in Malawi. A huge welcome from the Bartletts at the ABC Hearing Clinic, who welcomed me into their family for the whole weekend, providing piles of pancakes and showing me round Lilongwe. The first time for seeing a roast mouse kebab (five little blackened corpses on a stick, which would make my cats feel like there was some justice in the world after all) and the second coldest I’ve been in Africa.  The first coldest was in the volcanoes in Rwanda, when I was woefully underpacked.  The same woeful underpacking had occurred this time, reducing me to wearing socks with sandals in a non-ironic way. And heating up a brick in the oven where I was staying, and taking it to bed with me.  Although I had a fairly comprehensive moan about it, it was a good reminder about how tough life can be for the people Sound Seekers are trying to help. I was only there for a week, freezing but healthy and full of beans – and then heading home to a bizarrely warm England. Going on outreach with ABC Hearing Clinic and Project Compassion was the fresh shock all over again of how poor people really are, and how early treatment could make people happy and pain-free so much sooner than the reality. I saw Peter Bartlett and his team carefully and delicately dig out huge plugs of rock-solid, dark brown earwax that had been keeping people in silence for years. It took an hour to pull out a red bead from deep inside an old woman’s ear, with so much wax grown round it that she’d been unnecessarily deaf for far too long.     I saw people queuing patiently for hours for ear infection treatment that would be sorted out in minutes back in prosperous England. And children so serious and hard-working that there was no chance of play audiometry, because they didn’t have any idea of an adult focusing on them and just having fun.

Clinic QueueI hope we can do a lot more in Malawi, and we have the exciting prospect of extending our work there. I would love to deepen the audiology service in Blantyre, building with Dr Wakisa Mulwafu, the only ENT doctor in the country. We want to be greater than the sum of our parts, collaborating with other NGOs. We’re gratefully accepting help from the ABC Hearing Clinic with supporting our sponsored audiological associate in Blantyre for a week a month (thanks, Rosanna!) and hope that we’re helping them by sending a HARK mobile hearing clinic to make more outreach possible.  The cold and the six hour wait in Addis Ababa airport are almost forgotten and forgiven when I remember the sun in Lilongwe, the poppadums bigger than my head in an Indian restaurant in Blantyre, and most of all seeing people hearing again after treatment. The brand-new Cadbury’s Dairy Milk flavour and the costumed dancers at the airport welcoming the inaugural direct flight from Kenya were pretty good too.