Growing up in Malawi as the daughter of a nurse and an actuarial scientist, Bridget Malewezi was fascinated by her mother’s nursing books and dreamed of a career in medicine. Today, as the Malawi Country Representative for Seed, Dr. Malewezi is applying her training and experience in medicine and public health in the hope of having an even larger impact on the health care system in Malawi.
“My mom’s books were a lot more interesting than my dad’s formulas,” Bridget recalls. “There were pictures, there were anatomy books. Growing up I spent a lot of time kind of reading through them, fascinated by the idea of medicine.”
But it was the death of her younger sister that truly inspired her to be part of improving health care in Malawi. Bridget was only 13 when her nine-year-old sister was bitten by a rabid dog. “We took her to the clinic, but they said there was nothing to worry about. Two months down the line, she passed away because it was too late to do anything. I could tell even then, without any medical training, that there were things that could have been done that were not done… That is what drives me now, to provide the best possible care that you can despite the challenges.”
After completing her secondary education in South Africa and her medical training at the University of Malawi College of Medicine, Bridget was one of the first physicians employed at the new DaeYang Luke Hospital in Lilongwe, Malawi. There she worked closely with hospital staff to coordinate and build the various systems within the hospital,
“It was a lovely experience because I was working with people to set up a system, how the hospital should run,” she says. In the process, she gained an intimate understanding of how broader policies impact hospitals, staff, and patients.
“I liked clinical work, but what really drives me is to see the improvement of health care in Malawi, to impact the policies and decisions that are being made. I really wanted to be able to assist in making those in-country decisions on how health care should move.” So in 2011, she took a job with the Clinton Health Access Initiative. And three years later she went to Emory University in Atlanta to pursue her Master’s in Public Health.
After completing her MPH, she returned to Malawi and enjoyed spending some time at home with her daughter while looking into and applying for a job she had heard about from one of her college friends – the Seed Country Representative position. “The reason I found the role interesting was to have a local person in-country, with local expertise, building up the program and thinking through ways it could be done in a culturally sensitive and productive way, responding to local needs and priorities.”
What particularly attracted Bridget to Seed was the emphasis on building local capacity by working with partner institutions to educate the next generation of nurses and doctors as care providers, educators, and health system leaders.
“A lot of other programs do good work, but then they leave,” she explained. “The impact is there, but it goes away as soon as they go. So having someone in country to really work with the program and ensure that it does cover the gaps, it does assist in capacity building and improving health care, in a way that there is sustainable, long-term impact in the country that we can see and benefit from continuously, even if the program eventually phases out. That’s what really motivated me to join the program — to be the local voice, the local ‘think tank,’ and make sure the program is addressing the issues that are important.”