Ambassador Mhura recently visited Rice University’s 360⁰ Institute for Global Health (Rice 360⁰). During the visit, the ambassador toured Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen, Rice’s center for development and incubation of innovations in bio and health technologies. The center has developed technologies that have been implemented in various hospitals in Malawi and are benefiting Malawians. These include a variety of low-cost, robust technologies that Dr. Rebecca Richards-Kortum, Director of Rice 360⁰, calls “the nursery of the future” aimed at providing adequate hydration and nutrition, treating infections, keeping babies warm and treating jaundice.

Rice 360⁰ has developed the aptly Chichewa-named Pumani bCPAP machine in partnership with Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, Baylor College of Medicine, and 3rd Stone Design. According to Rice’s website, Pumani bCPAP is a low-cost, high-performance bubble CPAP system to treat infants with respiratory distress syndrome in the developing world. The cost of Pumani bCPAP machine is $800 compared to a conventional CPAP machine that costs as much as $6,000. Pumani bCPAP is now available for use world-wide. It is notable that two years ago Dr. Richards-Kortum and her colleague, Dr. Maria Oden received a $100,000 prize from Lemelson Foundation for their work developing the bCPAP. They used the money to build a neonatal ward at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, prompting statements such as “From Houston with Love” by observers.

Rice 360⁰ has made these machines available to all government District and Central Hospitals and has trained nurses on their use. Rice plans to make more machines available to CHAM Hospitals. With support of Rice 360⁰, training in the use of the Pumani machine has been incorporated in the curriculum in nursing schools.

During the visit, presentations on work being done by Rice 360⁰ in Malawi were made by   Dr. Rebecca Richards-Kortum, Dr. Maria Oden, Dr. Veronica Leautaud and Dr. Rachna Khare.  Dr. Leslie Schover, formerly of M.D. Anderson Center for Cancer Research spoke on the work they are doing with Baylor College of Medicine on improving maternal health in Malawi. She and her colleagues, Dr. Rachel Pope, Ms. Abiba Tsoka-Matengula and Dr. Daisy Malemia have developed a “pregnancy wheel” for use amongst low literacy women for ante-natal services. Their innovation won third prize at Rice’s Global Health Hackathon hosted by Baylor Global Initiatives in October, 2015.

Rice 360⁰ has an exchange programme for staff and students with the Polytechnic, and the two institutions are in the process of establishing an innovation technology/engineering lab at the Polytechnic. The Ambassador commented that “it was wonderful to see young girls in action demonstrating that STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Maths) are alive and functioning among young girls in the US”. The Ambassador commended the students seen in action and requested them to encourage young Malawians especially girls and act as role models to Malawian girls when they visit Malawi.

During the visit, discussions were held on the idea of encouraging Polytechnic students to start at an early stage to consider commercialization of engineering products they develop through a proposed Fund.

The tour of Rice University was generously supported and patronized by about 13 Malawians living in Houston, Texas.  They participated in the discussions and committed themselves to supporting Rice 360⁰ in various ways. The Ambassador thanked them for the continued interest in and work for Malawi, noting that they have been active in undertaking activities for the benefit of Malawians including disaster assistance.

While at Rice, the Ambassador met with representatives of Heart Gift Houston and Heart Gift Austin. According to the Heart Gift’s website, the organization’s mission is to provide lifesaving heart surgery to children from around the world where specialized medical treatment is either scarce or nonexistent.  Sonya Keeling of Heart Gift Austin is currently working on bringing another child for similar heart surgery in Austin, Texas this month. The Ambassador thanked and commended them for this wonderful gift of health to the Malawian children. The organization of Malawians in Texas (MITO) is actively assisting with bringing the child to Austin for this surgery.

The Ambassador also visited Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) in Houston which has an MoU with the Ministry of Health under which BCM is doing tremendous work in pediatric HIV, cancer, and obstetrics and gynecology support at Kamuzu Central Hospital.  BCM is also engaged in training more obstetricians in Malawi.

The Ambassador viewed the Emergency Smart Pod (ESP) that has been developed by BCM with the support of USAID. The ESP is a modular, low-cost, portable treatment unit that can be used from the back of a truck, easily assembled and can be useful in emergencies as well as ordinary medical operations. It is a well-equipped facility which would be of great use in Malawi. The Project Manager of Baylor Global Initiatives, Sarah Michel, informed the Ambassador that the prototype will soon be shipped for use in Malawi once trials have been completed.

In his speech, both at Rice and BCM the Ambassador conveyed Government of Malawi’s appreciation for the wonderful lifesaving work the two institutions are doing in Malawi and assured them of the Government’s support.

The Ambassador took the advantage of the visit to Rice 360⁰ to speak to staff and students at Rice’s Center for Justice, Poverty and Human Capabilities on Malawi’s policy, legal and strategic achievements in the area of justice, poverty and human capabilities focusing on the health sector. He encouraged staff and students to consider Malawi as a destination for research collaboration, internships, study abroad programs. The Ambassador noted that Malawi is a pristine country for such activities in the health and other sectors, as Malawi seeks to find solutions for the challenges she is facing through research/evidence- based work.

The Ambassador had the opportunity to meet with Malawians in Texas to encourage them to leverage on their being in the US to assist with challenges Malawi is facing including the ones caused by last year’s floods and the El Nino this year.

Of note is Mr. David Salako, who runs a programme of getting donations of books which he sends to Malawi to set up libraries in rural areas. So far he, in collaboration with the members of MITO, has sent books that have set up several libraries around Mzuzu and Nkhata Bay. The next container of books arrives in Malawi on February 8. The Ambassador commended them for their work and assured them of Government support, encouraging them to expand the programme.