Malawi BICO Global Health Project

Malawi in Southern Africa is one of the poorest countries in the world. Achieving Social determinants of Health and access to better education remains a challenge. Blantyre Institute for Community Outreach (BICO), a local community-based organization (NGO) in collaboration with international academic and nonacademic partners, has partnered with Ministries of Health and Education to address some of the inequities such as access to quality education and health, through undertakings of various global health interventions. Currently BICO focusses on school and community led interventions.  Dr Khumbo Kalua, a well-known academician and researcher in Malawi (with over 80 publications in Global Health), is the founding member of BICO and has over 15 years’ experience in Global health, focusing on Neglected Tropical diseases and Eye Health. His research and NGO work has led to the elimination of blinding Trachoma as a public health problem, and international recognition. BICO also works on other neglected tropical diseases such as onchocerciasis, hookworm, Schistosomiasis, and HIV/AIDs.

Project Title: School Eye health project

Target: UBC medical students

Currently BICO can take 2-4 medical students in 2024

Project description: This project aims to screen and conduct eye health checks on a regular basis to learners in various schools in Malawi, to ensure that those with visual impairment are provided with low-cost glasses and low vision devices, to improve their learning ability. Teachers from selected schools also benefit from the screening activity.  A team of dedicated eye health workers and teachers from the Ministry of Health, Education and BICO conduct the exercise in selected schools.

Goal: We recognize that by having the health and education sectors work together to conduct visual assessment and correct them maximizes the learning ability for the children.

Outcomes: In 2022-2023 year alone, BICO was able to train 502 teachers, screen approximately 80,000 learners and teachers from over 190 schools and prescribed over 900 learners with glasses and low vision devices.  Learners identified specialist eye services are referred to a tertiary eye hospital.

What will students benefit from involvement in this activity?

  • Attend to webinars/lectures/seminars at UBC on the BICO school eye project in Malawi.
  • Understand the epidemiology of refractive errors and impact on learning in schools.
  • Gain experience working with leaners with visual impairment
  • Learn to make observations with respect to child behaviour and recognize typical signs and symptoms of someone with visual impairment .
  • Appreciate the multiple barriers faced by leaners with visual impairment and some of the associated implications for social determinants of health
  • Work with a team of eye health care and understand their role
  • Provide continuity in care for the leaners by liaising with, teachers and eye health care professionals
  • Provide recommendations by professionals for leaners with visual impairment
  • Provide support and help identifying external resources needed for the project .
  • Analysis of screening data sets
  • Gain a better understanding of how investing in schools eye health infrastructure in LMICs can translate to improved health and learning outcomes.


  • Large database from schools’ screenings available in form of excel (2021 -2023) -can be converted to other database.
  • Data continued to be collected from 2023-2024
  • Research – *Opportunity for UBC Medical Students involvement in analysis for 2022 -2023 data* upon being trained virtually.
  • Opportunity for UBC medical students to be involved in more data collection and school screenings in 2024.
  • Opportunity to interview beneficiaries and document case stories

Future Directions:

  • Scale up the eye health screening initiatives to more districts in Malawi – potentially could have a large group of UBC coming for this activity on an annual basis
  • Use digital health (android phones) to capture data -need to mobilize resources
  • Help reduce eye health inequities worldwide through disseminating project findings

For more information contact the Director of BICO,  Dr. Khumbo Kalua