An exemplar of an equitable global partnership

Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, University of Glasgow, and Dr Mwapatsa Mipando, former Principal of Kamuzu University of Health Sciences, Blantyre, Malawi and co-lead on the Blantyre–Blantyre project, discuss the benefits of building an equitable partnership to tackle critical global issues around healthcare, medicine and inequalities.

Whilst Glasgow in Scotland and Blantyre in Malawi might be almost 8,000 miles apart, many core values are shared by both our universities: the pursuit of knowledge, a desire for a more sustainable and equitable future, and a collegial approach.

Many of the decisions we take in our institutions are rooted in understanding the wider context of Glasgow and Malawi, and the impact our decision-making might have on our cities, our communities and indeed on society as a whole.

"As partners we remain committed to developing research co-operation which is based on trust, listening and equity above all."

As universities, we are anchor institutions firmly embedded locally, and we have the ability to make a genuine impact on local communities through our connections and through our community of students and staff who live, work and study in the vicinity of our campuses. 

Of course, education is a major vehicle for reducing inequality, offering opportunities for better-paid jobs and creating pathways to positive destinations. But addressing inequality goes beyond education. It’s important to ensure we are directly tackling health, economic and wider social inequalities at the same time.

Our collective mission is to use our science, research, innovation and community action to effect change at a local and global level. We must work together to take an all-encompassing approach to address the major challenges facing the world, from disease and poverty to climate change and food insecurity.

A partnership, by definition, serves both partners. A partnership is not merely a posture, but a continuous process that grows stronger as we devote ourselves to common tasks. This sentiment is embodied in the African proverb, “if you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together”.

We know that infectious and non-communicable diseases, and the serious challenge of multimorbidity will require innovative solutions. We will need the brightest of minds on both our continents to share ideas and research to drive the innovative solutions we will need. This is our mission with the Blantyre–Blantyre project: to expand and enhance knowledge and work together to use our research for the greater good of the communities we serve. Looking ahead, we will continue to build opportunities for equitable collaboration, and we hope to set an example of how universities should move forward together into the future.

Our partnership in action

The Blantyre–Blantyre project was developed through a two-way discussion of need, expertise and complementarity between our two institutions. This symbiotic partnership has produced a joint healthcare programme to compare the cause of poor health and low life expectancy in Blantyre, Malawi and the West of Scotland, symbolised by Blantyre, Scotland, and a state-of-the-art research facility, based in the former institution.  

Today, that facility houses cutting-edge research and diagnostic equipment previously unavailable in the area. It hosts researchers and postgraduate students from the global south and the global north, working together on joint research and grant applications. Aiming to become self-sustaining, the laboratory provides diagnostic clinical services to local medical schemes and plans to host large global clinical trials. Having these facilities in-country in Malawi enables access to trials for cohorts that represent both our populations.

The laboratory runs on a solar-powered energy system, ensuring continuity of power in an area where power cuts can be frequent. The excess power from this green energy solution is distributed to the Kamuzu University of Health Sciences’ (KUHeS) main campus in Blantyre.

This project aligns with several of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and was highlighted by the European Commission as an example of best practice in partnership work that addresses the goals. Our collaboration is inspiring other global networks to redefine what a truly equitable research partnership looks like. Critically, the information gleaned through this mutual partnership will serve to improve health in both nations.

We know such complex and widespread challenges cannot be solved by one institution or one nation alone, therefore we will continue to seek opportunities to collaborate with those who share our vision.

As partners we remain committed to developing research co-operation which is based on trust, listening and equity above all.

The laboratory

Prof Iain McInnes on the impact of the state-of-the-art research facility the partnership has created in Malawi.

Powerhouse of the future

Prof Paul Garside on the reasons why it's important Glasgow partners with African institutions.