Malawi-Glasgow partnership highlighted as best practice

Published: 4 December 2020

The Blantyre-Blantyre project will feature in the Africa-Europe Innovation Partnership report, commissioned by the European Commission Directorate General for Research.

The Blantyre-Blantyre project, the University of Glasgow's joint initiative with the University of Malawi College of Medicine (CoM), will feature in the Africa-Europe Innovation Partnership report, commissioned by the European Commission Directorate General for Research and Innovation. The report highlights collaborative research best practice between African and European institutions, and the project was chosen as an example of joint work that addresses the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Staff from the WCIP have been closely involved with this partnership from the beginning.

Named after the Scottish town Blantyre and the city of the same name in Malawi, the Blantyre-Blantyre project was developed through two-way discussion of need, expertise and complementarity between the two institutions. One of the key outcomes resulting from the collaboration is the establishment of an internationally accredited research laboratory  in Malawi, so that relevant joint clinical research can be undertaken in both locations. 

Critically, the partnership has provided a conduit for the flow of information, expertise, funds, equipment and reagents during the current COVID-19 pandemic and, in future, will provide a state-of-the-art, front line testing facility, if required. 

The project has added value to not only the CoM but also to the wider scientific communities of Blantyre, Lilongwe, and Malawi as a whole. Having a base in Malawi has allowed many Glasgow researchers and projects to flourish, and experiences of working in the country have been disseminated throughout the University. 

"The laboratory facility is an exemplar of what North-South partnership should be", said Dr Mwapatsa Mipando, CoM lead applicant on the grant. "Our colleagues, and now our friends, from UofG listened to what we were saying and helped us to achieve one of our strategic plans. We now have a world-class laboratory that we hope will have a snowball effect in the delivery of world-class but locally relevant research, postgraduate training, laboratory service and public engagement for the benefit of humanity including Malawians and Scots. Thank you to the people of Scotland for partnering with us on this project."

Professor Paul Garside, Dean for Global Engagement (Africa & Middle East) and a prinicipal investigator at the WCIP, added: "The Blantyre-Blantyre project is exciting and ambitious and brings educational and health benefits to the people of both Malawi and Scotland. This project has been a journey that many friends, colleagues and organisations have contributed to."

Picture of new lab facility in Malawi.

Small beginnings 

The project commenced in 2013 with a small investment from our International Partnership Development Fund, which enabled an initial visit to Malawi. This was followed by week-long return visit from CoM senior management. 

The visiting cohort highlighted Malawi's major health and educational challenges and priorities.  During a day of brainstorming Mwapatsa  outlined what would be required to develop research programmes that are relevant and important for Malawi and Scotland, and which enable two-way learning:  the clear need was for an internationally accredited research laboratory. The resulting laboratory is now near completion, having benefited from major funding from the Scottish Government’s International Development Fund.   

This project has provided a focus for activity in Malawi, consequently triggering new initiatives, such as a joint proposal to develop the first dental training and health programme in Malawi.   

At Glasgow, two clinical academics whose major research interests and programmes are linked to Malawi have been appointed, and a staff member will be permanently based in Malawi to run a large clinical research  programme.   

There are numerous examples of collaboration in training (academic, clinical and professional services) and education (masters and PhD  programmes) which have a financial value of more than ten times the project's original investment.   

If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together 

This project is a testament to the proverb, "If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together". All involved are proud that it has been recognised by the European Commission as demonstrating best practice.   

Professor Iain McInnes, our Head of College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences, said: "Our friends from the College of Medicine in Malawi share a collective vision that is ambitious for the future health of the people in Malawi and Scotland".  

First published: 4 December 2020

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