I’ll be spending my summer internship in Blantyre, Malawi, where I’ll be working on a few projects. My office is in the Malaria Alert Centre, which is conveniently located next to the central hospital (where one of my advisers works) and also houses the Blantyre Malaria Project, with whom I’m collaborating on a project that is trying to develop a diagnostic algorithm to differentiate pediatric patients with bacterial meningitis from those with cerebral malaria. Both diseases have very similar symptoms and a high mortality rate, but unfortunately they both require different treatments.
Complicating the situation, many health care centers (and even some district hospitals) in Malawi don’t have the resources that they need to perform even basic lab work (in some cases they are unable to determine hematocrit or blood glucose), so this algorithm would ideally be based on 4-5 clinical observations that don’t require sophisticated equipment. While I’m in Malawi I’ll also be collaborating on a project to determine the burden of cancer in Malawi – we take it for granted in the US that we know how many cancer cases occur each year, and what the most common types of cancer are, but that information has not been systematically collected for Malawi, which makes it difficult to allocate health care resources to where they are needed.
I share my office with two other researchers – an MD/PhD studying cerebral malaria, and a post-doc working on a device to measure the size of a hole that red blood cells infected with malaria can pass through. We have a fourth seat in our office which visiting researchers and professors will often use when they need a place to sit and work. It’s a humble office on the second floor that is well-supplied with tea, coke, and various snacks (including the tasty but unfortunately named “Salticrax” cracker). The office looks out over fields and the noise from people working will drift in (it’s the cooler dry season and our windows stay open during the day), the MAC insectory, where they raise mosquitoes (and the reason we have to close our windows when it gets dark), and across to the Malawi Liverpool Wellcome Trust. Combined, it’s a nice view of both average life in Malawi and sophisticated research institutions, highlighting the need for research on infectious disease and the hope that research here will one day lead to better care.