By James Mphande
Malawi’s President, Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika has been impressed with the various Covid19 related innovations showcased by staff and students at the Malawi University of Science and Technology (MUST) during his visit on June 1, 2020.
The President, who is also the university’s chancellor, visited MUST to appreciate what the university was doing in the fight against the Covid19 pandemic.
He seized the opportunity to challenge universities to scale up their efforts in contributing towards solutions to national problems, such as the Covid19.
“Today, I have seen the spirit of innovation and patriotism at its best. I have seen university students working together with their professors to make new products for fighting Covid19,” he said, adding that MUST was living up to government’s expectations of leading in science, technology education, research and entrepreneurship.
“This is the way it must be. University academics must lead in research and innovation to find solutions for problems confronting society. At the moment, we have a problem. We are in the middle of a crisis of Covid19. Coronavirus is real. Coronavirus is a crisis as it is killing people in many countries. This disease does not choose. Coronavirus can kill anyone at any time. That is what we are seeing everywhere.”
The Chancellor said it was worrying that Malawians were taking the pandemic lightly, citing politics as one of the factors undermining efforts towards the fight against the pandemic.
“The courts stopped us from going on a lockdown. The same courts want us to go to an election. Now, we have a situation that is encouraging everybody to campaign and undermining social distance. We are risking lives of innocent Malawians. With this election, we are risking lives of our children, our mothers, our fathers, our brothers and sisters,” he said.
But President Mutharika said what MUST showcased demonstrated patriotism in the fight against Covid19.
“We have seen the Malawi University of Science and Technology designing and producing, among others, ventilators, automatic water and soap dispensers, face shields, reusable face masks, hand sanitizers, disinfection chambers and many more others. It has also designed a tracking system to prevent, minimize and contain the spread of the virus.
“I am aware that other universities are also making various initiatives in fighting the virus. In fact, the University has taken a leadership role in the Presidential Task Force on Coronavirus,” he said adding that other public universities had also come up with products such as oxygen breathing machine to support patients with respiratory problems, drones for collecting samples and providing laboratory support and research leadership in fighting Covid19.
He thanked government and other international organisations that were already buying and using some of these products.
“This crisis has challenged us to remember that we are a capable nation that can produce more and export more. This crisis has proven that we can become a self-dependent nation, capable of producing technologies that can lead in the world. This crisis can make us a stronger nation. We can become a great nation if we stop politicking and focus on development,” he said, who viewed pavilions mounted by staff and students before addressing university students and staff.
MUST Vice Chancellor, Professor Address Malata, in her remarks, said through MUST’s Centre for Innovation and Industrial Research (CIIR), the innovators are developing a number of items that would assist in preventing Covid19 pandemic in Malawi and beyond.
“Most of these products are on the market. However, our challenge is that we are using small equipment but we would like to seek your support for heavy duty equipment such as 3D printers so that we can increase our production to meet demand,” she said.
“We have also acquired equipment which is already on campus for construction of a mini industrial park to go into fully fledged production and other value addition activities but we have a shortfall of K500 million to put up the structure. We also need your support on this.”
Professor Malata hailed the collaboration and support from fellow public universities, the Ministry of Health and some development partners such as Rice University, Michigan State University, USAID and SeedingLabs towards the Covid19 related innovation development project.
Already, MUST has donated some of the innovations to Ministry of Health, Thyolo District Hospital and the Chancellor.
On teaching and learning, Professor malate said MUST has developed an online platform to ensure that students resume classes and so far the university has acquired tablets and laptops to help students access the platform.
“We have also trained our lecturers on how customize their modules for online platforms, we have trained them on delivery of the same and we will soon be going around the country to train the students on online access,” she said.