Malawi is a beautiful but small country in southern Africa, surrounded by Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique. It has the third largest lake in the whole of Africa, Lake Malawi, which covers a fifth of the country. Malawi is called 'the warm heart of Africa' after its friendly and gentle people. Despite its beauty, Malawi is a very poor country and its economy relies on foreign aid and agriculture, particularly tobacco. Most of the population live on less than two dollars a day.
THE NEED IN MALAWI
Most people in Malawi will never see a doctor. That’s because in Malawi, there are only about 350 doctors in total. That’s roughly 1 doctor for every 50,000 people. In the UK, we have over 100,000 doctors – or 1 for every 500 people. There are even fewer specialist doctors in Malawi – for example, there is one neurosurgeon for the entire country. Only 8% of paediatrician and 9% of obstetrician posts are filled. But it’s not just doctors. In the whole of Malawi, there are only 27 physiotherapists and 33% of nurses’ posts are vacant.
This chronic shortage of health workers has led to Malawi having some of the worst health outcomes in the world. It is one of the most dangerous places in the world for a woman to give birth: one woman will die from childbirth for every 196 births. In the UK, 1 woman will die for every 8333 births. The lifetime risk of childbirth, which is the cumulative loss of life due to childbearing over the course of a woman’s life, was 1 in 36 for a Malawian woman in 2008. In the UK, it was 1 in 4,700. It is the same for children’s health: for every 1000 children born, 110 will die before they turned five. Women and children will particularly benefit from more health workers. This is why Medic to Medic is supporting health workers to train in Malawi - to help change these shocking statistics.
WHERE WE WORK IN MALAWI
The College of Medicine was set up in 1991 as part of the University of Malawi. It is based in Blantyre, the largest city in Malawi and the commercial centre. Initially, the College could only offer the clinical phase of training, and students were sent to the UK in order to do their preclinical years. Now all five years of the medical course are completed in Malawi, with clinical attachments at the Queen Elizabeth teaching hospital in Blantyre and the rural campus in Mangochi. An additional premedical or foundation year is offered for those students who don’t have science to A-level standard (A-levels tend to be offered only in private schools in Malawi). In addition to medicine, the College now offers degrees in pharmacy, medical laboratory technology, physiotherapy and health management.
The Malawi College of Health Sciences (COHS) was set up in 1999 and has three campuses in Blantyre, Zomba and Lilongwe. The main campus is in Lilongwe and this is where the trainee clinical officers sponsored by Medic to Medic are based. The COHS provides training for nursing, clinical officers, medical assistants, laboratory assistants, pharmacy assistants, and dental assistants. “Assistant” roles are common in Africa and in many countries form the backbone of rural health services. They are usually school-leavers who receive a shortened training than their counterparts but perform many of the same roles.
Source: World Bank Country Profile. www.worldbank.org