Eleven years ago Australian audiologists Peter and Rebecca Bartlett moved to Malawi with their three daughters, as missionary volunteers with the audiology aid agency EARS Incorporated. There were no registered audiologists in the small sub-Saharan nation known as the warm heart of Africa. In 2021 the many years of commitment from the Bartletts and others like Lois Grant (Aust.), Helen Brough (UK) and Dr Jenna Vallario (USA), was rewarded. The first group of students on the Bachelor of Science in Audiology degree program at the African Bible College (ABC) graduated as Malawi’s first home-grown audiologists. This is the first time a group of students have graduated from any audiology degree program anywhere in the southern half of Africa (excluding South Africa), and represents a significant milestone in this emerging new breed of audiologists.
With roughly half the land area of Victoria and a population of over 19 million people, the small and impoverished nation of Malawi suffers from an under-developed health and education system. Ear and hearing health is understandably seen as being a less important health need to address compared with HIV-AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and now COVID-19, however there is an increasing understanding within government circles for the need for audiology, and a willingness to provide employment positions within the public health system given the graduation of this cohort of audiologists.
The Bachelor of Science in Audiology degree program established in Malawi at the African Bible College by EARS Inc has now received full accreditation from the National Council for Higher Education in Malawi. This means it has the full endorsement now of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education. This is fantastic as it means that the number of Malawian audiologists just increased overnight by 333% from 3 to 13.
The program, based at the impressive ABC Hearing Clinic and Training Centre, still requires external support and funding, however the focus of providing high quality audiology care within a Malawian context is strongly directed towards a model of self-sustainability. Thanks to the support shown for this Australian initiative, professional audiology training is now a Malawian reality.
EARS Inc. is continuing to support the Malawi program as it does with programs in other low- and middle-income countries such as the Dominican Republic, Fiji and Papua New Guinea, developing the necessary services, training, outreach and resources required by the in-country partner organisations.
EARS CHAMPIONS 200
To highlight the work of EARS Incorporated, and to launch a new initiative called EARS CHAMPIONS 200, Peter Bartlett is going to attempt to run 200km on 10 and 11 July, in an appeal to people, who want to see life-changing ear and hearing health programs delivered in countries where they are desperately needed, to become an EARS CHAMPION by donating $200 a year to EARS Inc.
Peter’s goal is to sign up 200 EARS CHAMPIONS, who will receive from EARS Inc. a short video from the field every fortnight so that they see the difference their support is making at the coalface.
EARS CHAMPIONS will therefore get the benefit of being connected to a group of people who invest in life-changing work and see that difference on a regular basis, connecting in this COVID-affected world and being invested and engaged, not just as supporters, but as advocates – as EARS CHAMPIONS.