SPECIALISTS at Bradford Royal Infirmary have performed the first cochlear implant surgery in Malawi, helping two deaf children to hear in what is a life-changing operation.

The team from the Yorkshire Cochlear Implant Service, which is based at the Bradford hospital, took their expertise 5,000 miles away after a link-up with the only ear, nose and throat surgeon in the African country.

It marks a dream come true for the driving force behind the medical first, Dr Wakisa Mulwafu, who is based at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre.

The intricate surgery was carried out on Richard Mohammed, 16, and Joyce Chapotera, nine, by one of Bradford’s ENT and cochlear implant surgeons, David Strachan.

It involved drilling into the bony wall of the inner ear and inserting a high-tech device designed to provide a sensation of sound by sending an electric current to the auditory nerve in the brain.

Mr Strachan said: “Initially, these sounds can appear strange and quite robotic but with perseverance and rehabilitation practice by Joyce and Richard; support from their families and friends; and specialist services from skilled audiologists based both in Bradford and Malawi, this will gradually become the normal way of hearing for the children.

“Thanks to the vision and perseverance of Wakisa, his hospital colleagues and charity supporters, this is a ‘first’ for Malawi.


“Everyone in the Bradford team is honoured to have been part of this team effort that has created medical history – and paved the way for propelling its audiology service into a new era."

The tiny devices were switched on six weeks after the surgery, and the first words spoken by one of the two patients was "Ndikumva" - "I hear".

The pair have been receiving regular rehabilitation and are making progress, which saw Richard returning to school on Monday.

The idea for Malawi's first cochlear implant was triggered when Mr Strachan visited QECH in November 2013 as part of a four-month sabbatical.

An international partnership was formed which pooled Bradford’s expertise with support from MED-EL, the technology leader in hearing implant solutions, which donated both implants used. The plan was cemented when Dr Mulwafu and audiologists from Malawi met Mr Strachan at the Coalition for Global Hearing Health in Oxford in July.

Dr Mulwafu, who visited BRI four years ago for an insight into the cochlear implant team’s work, added: “The past year has been an amazing journey for everyone involved in trying to turn this dream into reality.

“We are grateful to David and the whole Yorkshire Cochlear Implant team for sharing their expertise with us and creating the impetus for ear surgery in Malawi to develop and expand in a way in which we never thought possible."

The Yorkshire Cochlear Implant Service at BRI has carried out about 1,000 such operations over 25 years.