Podcast: How the University’s Global Push Could Help Bring Malawi Its First Dedicated Teaching Hospital

Jefferson’s long-standing ties to the African nation could prove transformative for students, patients and medical professionals there.
Chris Harnish, an associate professor of architecture and director of the University's Malawi Health and Design Collaborative, speaks with Dr. Macpherson Mallewa about an exciting project that could see the African nation get its first-ever advanced teaching hospital. (Photos by ©Thomas Jefferson University Photography Services)

Back in March, a group of nine students from the University’s College and Architecture and the Built Environment boarded a plane for a long trek to Malawi, a landlocked nation in southeastern Africa.

Under the guidance of Chris Harnish – associate professor of architecture specializing in healthcare design – they spent two weeks meeting with high-ranking government officials, industry professionals and academic peers to get a better understanding of health design and infrastructure. (And yes, they also did some sightseeing!)

In this episode of The Nexus Podcast, we highlight their amazing trip (which was chronicled in a video captured by the fifth-year undergraduates), and look at Thomas Jefferson University’s ties to the nation, dating back more than a decade.

We also examine Jefferson’s role in potentially helping to bring the first-ever advanced teaching hospital to the nation. It is a billion-plus-dollar vision for officials from the Kamuzu University of Health Sciences (KUHeS) – the institution created after a 2021 merger between the University of Malawi’s Kamuzu College of Nursing and the College of Medicine.

While teaching his studio classes remotely from Malawi during the pandemic, Harnish learned of the remarkable vision during a meeting with Dr. Macpherson Mallewa, then the acting vice chancellor of KUHeS.

“I went into that meeting to tell him about our $20,000 research projects and things like that,” Harnish says. “He said, ‘Well, I’ve got a really interesting one that I wanted to tell you about: We have a line on a half a billion dollars in funding to build a new teaching hospital.’”

Officials from Jefferson and the Kamuzu University of Health Sciences recently met in Center City to discuss strategies moving forward in the exciting project.

Dr. Mallewa shared that he was working to figure out how the design-related and architectural planning would fall into place, as well as curriculum mapping and all the human resources work they would need in order to get this hospital up and running.

“’And I thought of you,’” Harnish recalls of Dr. Mallewa’s words. “He took notice of Jefferson. The world is taking notice.”

Should KUHeS’s “The Future is Better Together” vision become reality, it will be a major step forward for patients, health providers and students.

Dr. Macpherson Mallewa, Francis Moto and Belinda Gombachika (L-R) visited Philadelphia to speak with officials from the University about their burgeoning project to bring Malawi its first advanced teaching hospital.

Dr. Mallewa saw the unique fusion of health and design programs at a university located 8,000 miles away, as the team from Malawi graciously took time to explain during their week-long visit to Philadelphia this past summer.

Also sharing their insights are Harnish and students who took a formative journey earlier this year, thus bolstering the Malawi Health and Design Collaborative’s global efforts there.

“We thought Jefferson is the university that can help us propel ourselves to the future that we want to be,” Mallewa says. “We’re excited and grateful for Jefferson’s willingness to work with us. With Jefferson, the future is brighter together.”

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