Background: International reports recommend the improvement in the amount and quality of training for mental health workers in low and middle income countries. The Scotland-Malawi Mental Health Education Project (SMMHEP) has been established to support the teaching of psychiatry to medical students in the University of Malawi. While anecdotally supportive medical educational initiatives appear of value, little quantitative evidence exists to demonstrate whether such initiatives can deliver comparable educational standards. This study aimed to assess the effectiveness of an undergraduate psychiatry course given by UK psychiatrists in Malawi by studying University of Malawi and Edinburgh University medical students' performance on an MCQ examination paper.
Methods: An undergraduate psychiatry course followed by an MCQ exam was delivered by the SMMHEP to 57 Malawi medical students. This same MCQ exam was given to 71 Edinburgh University medical students who subsequently sat their own Edinburgh University examination.
Results: There were no significant differences between Edinburgh students' performance on the Malawi exam and their own Edinburgh University exam. (p = 0.65). This would suggest that the Malawi exam is a comparable standard to the Edinburgh exam. Malawi students marks ranged from 52.4%-84.6%. Importantly 84.4% of Malawi students scored above 60% on their exam which would equate to a hypothetical pass by UK university standards.
Conclusion: The support of an undergraduate course in an African setting by high income country specialists can attain a high percentage pass rate by UK standards. Although didactic teaching has been surpassed by more novel educational methods, in resource poor countries it remains an effective and cost effective method of gaining an important educational standard.