On 24 August 2017, our hosts, The Department of English at Chancellor College, opened the doors of the Great Hall and welcomed guests from across Africa and around the world to attend the first Wellcome-funded medical humanities conference in Zomba, Malawi. The conference offered keynote speeches from esteemed 2 esteemed scholars, Dr John Lwanda (NHS Scotland/Dudu Nsomba Publications) and Professor Ama de-Graft Aikins (University of Ghana), who spoke about healthcare challenges in Malawi and Ghana, respectively. Both addresses cultural approaches to health and innovative methods to address them. Guests also participated in roundtable discussions offered by Victoria Hume (musician/University of Witwatersrand) and Professor Catherine Burns (University of Pretoria).
Dr John Lwanda offers the opening keynote on Thursday, 24 August 2017.
This gathering was truly an international and multidisciplinary affair. It hosted participants from nations including, but not limited to Ghana, Greece, India, Nigeria, South Africa, Swaziland, United States of America, United Kingdom, and Zimbabwe. We were greeted by participants based in Malawi and the diaspora as well.
The 40+ paper presentations covered a wide-variety of topics ranging from drama and arts-based health interventions, malaria controls in the lower Shire, the history of tsetse fly prevention, art murals from Dedza hospitals, indigenous perspectives in the social science teaching, the effects of globalisation on Malawian herbal clinics, the prevention of violence against persons living with albinism, the film screening of a short documentary titled Make Arts Stop AIDS (MASA), storytelling and mnemonics, representation of disability and people with disabilities in Malawian films and folktales, communication in health and illness in the Bible. The full list of papers can be found on the official conference website.
Visitors also had a chance to view a collection of artistic productions that were contributed by panel presenters.
Along the wall were three paintings by Kudakwashe Munyikwa from her Fruit of Life exhibition which explored the fragility of the human condition by conceptualizing fruit as organs within the body.
Outside the Great Hall, tables were set up which also featured publications from Jo Vearey and Thea de Gruchy from their project titled ‘MoVE methods:visual:explore”.MoVE focuses on the development of visual and other involved methodologies to research the lived experiences of migrants in southern Africa.
On the first day of the conference, the Department of Fine and Performing Arts provided a lunch-hour Malawian jazz band comprised of Mr Faria, Andrew Kholowa, Danny Mphitha, Steve Khabili, Glory Shuga, Pricilla, Mr Kamanga, Mr Silungwe, Mr Gondora and Mr. Tepeka. This livened up the mid-day sessions as guests dined on food prepared by the Human Ecology department. The Make Art Stop AIDS documentary participants surprised the audience with song and dance and testimony of the lived experience with HIV/AIDS and testing. On the second day, also contributing to the entertainment was Paul Sezzie, the founder of the Land of Poets festival, who shared 2 Tumbuka language poems about health and the body during one of the first health breaks.
On the final day of the conference, Sharifa Abdulla, Lecturer in the Department of Fine and Performing Arts, organized the Mpwelembwesu Community-based Organization to perform a piece they developed about AIDS, witchcraft and community interventions as part of their Theatre for Development (TfD) project.
Following this performance, the participants celebrated the close of the conference. Overall, the organization of the conference could not have been achieved without the help and coordination of the Department of English at Chancellor College, University of Malawi. We thank them for opening their doors and welcoming us with such warmth known to Malawi.
Lastly, we would like to thank our funders at the Wellcome Trust, and our partners at The University of Edinburgh, University College London, Art and Global Health Centre Africa and the British Society for Literature and Science. Without your support and funding, this successful conference could not have happened.
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