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Healing Africa: Oxford doctor reflects on his work in Malawi
IT was nearly 20 years ago that two doctors gave up well-paid NHS jobs in the UK to go to work in one of the world’s poorest countries.
The then 36-year-old Prof Chris Lavy traded an NHS consultancy post to become professor at the University of Malawi College of Medicine.
He relocated to the African country with his GP wife Vicky and their six-month-old son Jonathan.
Several decades, medical positions in Oxford and an OBE later, the now 55-year-old Prof Lavy has reflected on his experiences helping those less fortunate than himself.
He said: “I initially thought about working in Africa for a couple of years, but I became so involved we decided to stay there.
“I began working in a government hospital.
“As time went on I realised how difficult it would be to get all the work done through the hospital. “I was particularly interested in children with disabilities, so I thought about building a hospital specifically for children. “I got a local architect to design it and applied to the Beit Trust.”
Opened in 2002, the Beit Cure International Hospital today sees about 8,000 patients and performs about 1,500 surgeries annually, specialising in hip and knee replacement surgery, one of the very few places where this surgery is available in Sub-Saharan Africa.
It has brought about increased survival rates from serious injuries and road traffic accidents, with the wide range of orthopaedic children’s conditions treated including club foot and angular limb deformity.
As the only orthopaedic surgeon among 12m people, Prof Levy carried out thousands of operations during his time in Malawi.
Working with a Christian medical charity, he also set up a training programme for orthopaedic paramedics , and established the College of Surgeons of East, Central and Southern Africa (COSECSA).
Having fathered another two sons, Prof Lavy returned home to work in Oxford in 2006.
But bureaucracy meant it was 15 months before he was allowed to treat English patients as a result of red tape stemming from the establishment of a Register of Specialists, created in the UK in 1997.
When he attempted to apply he was told that he had missed the deadline and the law had changed.
The application process was still dragging on after the announcement of his OBE in 2007.
Prof Lavy said: “Just before I went to Buckingham Palace in March, I couldn’t resist pointing out the embarrassment if Her Majesty happened to ask where I was working and I had to tell her I wasn’t yet deemed fit to do so in the UK.
“I was just extremely unlucky that the law changes happened when I was out there.” Eventually though he would practise as an orthopaedic surgeon at the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre, as well as being Honorary Professor at the Nuffield Department of Orthopaedics, Rheumatology and Musculoskeletal Sciences at Oxford University.
Now he lives in Jericho but is still committed to helping the African continent.
COSECSA now has an Oxfordshire connection (COSECSA Oxford Orthopaedic Link) thanks to a three-year project that started in 2012.
It combines research and training in primary trauma care and musculoskeletal impairment across the nine sub-Saharan countries in the COSECSA region, not only Malawi but also Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Zambia.
For more go to on the college of surgeons work in Malawi, visit cosecsa.org Malawi Fact File Malawi is a landlocked country in south-east Africa bordered by Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique.
A largely agricultural country, it faces overcoming decades of underdevelopment.
Tens of thousands of Malawians die of AIDS every year.
Most Malawians rely on subsistence farming. The food supply situation is precarious in a country prone to natural disasters from drought to heavy rainfalls.
Life expectancy for both men and women is 55. The population is 15.4m.
English remains the major language, with Christianity and Islam the major religions.
Malawi’s main exports are tobacco, tea, sugar and cotton.