Malawi is a sub-Saharan land locked country located south of the equator. Most famously known as “the Warm Heart of Africa,” it is a desperately beautiful country. Within its 118484 sq km, the land rises from plains to mountains, transforms from desert landscapes to forests, and to the east it includes Lake Malawi – one of Africa’s largest freshwater lakes with over 250 species of cichlids.
Formerly known as Nyasaland, Malawi obtained its independence from the British in 1964. President Kamuzu Hastings Banda rose to power and ruled until 1994, at which time the country transitioned into a multi-party democracy. Lazarus Chakwera is the current president of Malawi.
Despite its peaceful history, Malawi is among the poorest countries in the world according to the latest Worldbank statistics (2015). Malawi’s population is approaching the 20 million threshold. And, with a 2.8 % annual growth rate (UN, 2010-2015), Malawi has one of the fastest growing populations worldwide. 45% of total population is under 14 years old (UN, 2014).
More than half of the population lives on less than US$2 per day and the vast majority of Malawians rely on subsistence farming. Each year the country suffers from famine. Currently, 6.5 million people are considered food insecure due to continuing drought.
Life expectancy at birth stands at 62.3 years for men and 65.5 for women (WHO, 2020), with preventable and treatable illnesses as well as parasitic infections being common causes of death. For 2013, 1.2 million orphans were counted (UNICEF, 2013). 21% of the total population are undernourished (Worldbank, 2011-2015)
Women in Malawi have an average of 5.4 children (UN, 2010-2015). Maternal mortality rate stands at 634 (per 100 000 live births, Worldbank 2011-2015), one of the highest in the world, i.e. 0.6% or every 160th mother.
Malawi has made significant progress on child mortality over the last years. Nevertheless, infant mortality rate (under 1 year, per 1000 live births) is 43 (Worldbank, 2011-2015); 4.3% of children die before their first birthday. Under 5 mortality rate (per 1000 live births) is 64 (Worldbank, 2011-2015), i.e. 6.4% of children die before reaching their fifth birthday. Neonatal mortality rate (per 1000 live births) stands at 22 (Worldbank, 2011-2015); 2.2% die at birth. It is not uncommon to meet young mothers in the public hospitals who have already buried multiple children.
HIV rate is 8% for Malawians aged 15 to 49 (WHO 2021). 130,000 children had HIV in 2014, 530,000 HIV orphans were counted the same year (USAID, 2014). Both in town and in villages, widows caring for their orphaned grandchildren are all too common.
Malawi’s health care system operates at a skeletal level; with approximately 600 physicians serving the entire country. The majority of care is provided by nurses and clinical officers, but even so, clinics and hospitals face severe staff shortages, as over 50% of health worker posts are vacant. There is limited postpartum care in Malawi apart from the service offered by Joyful Motherhood and some other geographically limited initiatives.