Malawi Spotlight: the Warm Heart of Africa

Medic to Medic supports students in Malawi, Uganda, and Zambia. This week we want to shine a spotlight on Malawi to show a glimpse into what its like navigating healthcare and studying medicine there.

Malawi

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.

Malawi is called ‘the warm heart of Africa’ after its friendly and gentle people.

Photo by Abigail Somerville

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. 

Lake Malawi. Photo by Abigail Somerville

Most people in Malawi will never see a doctor. That’s because in all of Malawi, there are only about 350 doctors in total. That’s roughly 1 doctor for every 50,000 people. In contrast, In the UK, we have over 100,000 doctors. That’s 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, 33% of nurses’ posts are vacant and prior to the development of the physiotherapy course at the College of Medicine, only 27 physiotherapists for the entire country.

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.

Photo by Abigail Somerville

Where Our Students Study

The College of Medicine (COM) 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, Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe and the rural campus in Mangochi.

Tthe College now offers degrees in pharmacy, medical laboratory technology, physiotherapy and health management as well. 

Students at Mzuzu University (MU) undertake clinical placements in the northern region of Malawi, which tends to be more rural compared to other regions and their training is centered on the rural health needs of the local population. 

Students from the northern regions of Malawi are often underrepresented in tertiary education and our partnership with MU is an exciting opportunity to help disadvantaged students from the northern region.

St John of God College (SJOG) is located in the northern region of Mzuzu and was set up following discussions with the Brothers of Saint John of God Ireland in 1993.  Today SJOG provides education and training in mental health for clinical officers and nurses specialising in the field, as well as providing social services (including counselling and vocational training) to people in the region. Mental health in Malawi is severely underfunded and the partnership with SJOG offers Medic to Medic an opportunity to ensure students wishing to specialise in Mental Health are also given an opportunity to qualify and go on to support Malawians with mental health problems.

The college is a private institution and was set up as an alternative to the public universities.  They have the capacity to train more students than are currently enrolled and many students still struggle with the cost of tuition fees. Medic to Medic has supported one student through his training as a psychiatric nurse and has also provided partial scholarships to four other students. 

Ekwendeni College of Health Sciences  In 2014 the clinical officer training programme started with just 12 students.  In 2016 the course had expanded to 68 enrolled students, many still struggle to pay for all their tuition fees and the costs of living.  This qualification is often not recognised in developed countries, therefore they are seen as an investment in the health workforce since they often do not leave the country after qualification.

Kamuzu College of Nursing (KCN) is the biggest nursing and midwifery college in the Southern African Development Community (SADC). It was founded in 1979 with a mission to deliver high quality and cost effective nursing and midwifery education and other health related programs to students and other stakeholders through teaching, research, consultancy and outreach, advance professional growth and promote the health of the people of Malawi. Through our partnership with KCN we are continuing to expand our support to nurses in training in Malawi.

Some of our students attending practicals at Kumuzu Hospital in Lilongwe

To learn more about medic to medic and how you can support our students visit our website at www.medictomedic.org.uk

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