Griffith students providing healthcare in Malawi

Malawi was the recent destination for a group of Griffith Health students who found that they could learn more from the disadvantaged local people than they had ever imagined.

The group of three Mastersof Physiotherapy and three Graduate Diploma of Exercise Science students, plus two lecturers, travelled to the south-east African country as part of an aid mission to provide physio and exercise treatment to clients in local villages.

Cody Waldon from Elanora on the Gold Coast — now a graduated Exercise Physiology student – went on the five week trip which included setting up outreach clinics to provide disability assessments.

The first stop was two weeks in Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital.

“Here, many of the locals came to see us at the clinic with a whole host of movement disorders, many of which are related to Cerebal Palsy,” says Cody. “But we also saw people with epilepsy and stroke and also a lot of young children with club foot.

“This is something that some children are born with; fortunately in most developed countries this can be treated from birth, but this doesn’t happen in places like Malawi and we saw a lot of children and some adults pretty much walking around on their ankles.

“We also saw numbers of undiagnosed issues amongst people. A lot of people presented with ailments such as arthritis and joint pains caused by malnutrition and poor bone health.

“When someone is in a certain amount of pain in a particular area of the body they often modify their movement to alleviate that, but unfortunately this can create other movement issues.”

Working alongside two already established organisations in these areas, 500 miles and The Landrani Trust (African Vision Malawi), the group prescribed home-based exercises and fitted orthoses and prostheses (assistive devices) to the grateful patients.

“It was amazing to see how happy these people were – both patients and the local physios – when they were getting by using the most meagre materials available,” says Cody.

“For example, we saw the hospital physios just using some old tin cans and balls to perform mobility exercises with young children. Although they did see our presence as a great opportunity to learn from us, we also realised we were learning a great deal from them, not least the ability to get some great results from using the most simple tools. It really made us think outside the box, especially when we got back to Australia and found all the amazing equipment here to be quite overwhelming.”

Providing education

The group’s job as visiting students was not just to provide disability assessments and organise exercise plans and devices, but to also provide education to patients or parents about their or their child’s particular issue or disability.

“Unfortunately all health services are pretty thin on the ground in Malawi and providing information to people about their conditions is also a vitally important task.

“The five weeks we had in Malawi was certainly quite an eye opener for us and also a very humbling experience, but I think it has really made a difference to the way I communicate with patients and my clinical thinking when providing exercises. It made me realise that sometimes the simple option is the best option.

Cody is now working as an exercise physiologist at a practice in Tweed Heads.

“This amazing experience in Malawi, along with the support and education of my Griffith Graduate Diploma in Exercise Science, has given me confidence and a wealth of knowledge of conditions and appropriate prescription techniques to use in the practice.”