The analogy “give a man a fish or teach a man to fish,” demonstrates the essential role training can play in global health. When a doctor takes care of one child, that care is for one child only. But when a doctor can train other doctors to care for young patients, more children gain access to life-saving care. Over time, this can exponentially lead to improved health outcomes.
Malawi, with its population of 19 million, has approximately 40 pediatricians in the entire country. Dr. Tisu Mvalo, associate professor of pediatric medicine, was among the first pediatricians, and today he practices at Kamuzu Central Hospital (KZH) in Lilongwe, through UNC Project-Malawi.
KCH’s inpatient pediatric ward provides care for 15,000-20,000 admitted patients per year. They present with the most common diagnoses among these admitted patients is malaria, pneumonia, and sepsis.
“Tisu is very loyal to UNC. He is living proof that UNC’s dedication to the development of global faculty pays off, both at home and in the field,” said Irving Hoffman, PA, MPH, Director of International Operations for the Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases (IGHID).
UNC Project-Malawi hired Dr. Mvalo approximately 15 years ago, as a medical officer working on a Phase III Malaria Vaccine clinical trial. He then went to Cape Town, South Africa, for fellowship and residency in pediatric medicine, with support from the Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases. After that, UNC Project-Malawi, and then UNC Pediatrics, hired him to be the head of pediatrics unit in Malawi, where he now conducts research, teaches, and cares for patients. This past June, Dr. Mvalo was promoted to Associate Professor of Pediatrics.
“Tisu is an incredible child advocate, mission focused and has made a difference for hundreds of children and families,” said Stephanie Duggins Davis, MD, the Edward C. Curnen, Jr. Distinguished Professor, and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics.
Mvalo is also the PI for several ongoing research studies, including the Empirical trial (investigating treatment against cytomegalovirus and tuberculosis in HIV-infected infants with severe pneumonia), the malaria vaccine implementation, and a large phase III multi-centered TB vaccine efficacy study. He also has a leading role in the “Preventing Infant Infections with Implementation Science in Malawi” Program, comprised of three studies to address gaps in prevention services, striving for elimination of vertical transmission of HIV. The program is aligned with an integrated training framework that highlights ‘homegrown’ early investigators like Mvalo, who lead the studies.
Earlier this year, Mvalo was been appointed Lancet Global Health Commissioner for Oxygen Security.
Training and Patient Care
Dr. Mvalo provides training for UNC fellows, residents, and medical students. He also helps them navigate the cultural complexities of working in Malawi.
Elizabeth Fitzgerald, MD, Associate Professor of Pediatric Emergency Medicine and Director of the Pediatric Global Health program at UNC, has worked with Dr. Mvalo for many years. She describes him as the pillar of the UNC Pediatrics Program in Malawi, providing on-the-ground mentorship for rotating learners.
“Tisu helped us develop our program at KCH, and has overseen the rotations of all medical students and residents that work in the Pediatric department.”
“Tisu is calm and kind, and he treats patients and their families holistically. He doesn’t just see a patient. He thinks of the whole family.”
Fitzgerald recognizes that oftentimes, doctors in low-and middle-income countries may have the tendency to leave their country after completing their education, as salaries for physicians in Malawi remain low. But not Dr. Mvalo.
“He stays and works under often challenging conditions; he is invested in Malawi and in the people of Malawi. Tisu is dedicated to treating Malawian children and making a difference in their lives.”