Family and Reproductive Health Project (Malawi)

Village Health Committee member in the village of Chakwawa in Mchinji District, Malawi
Village Health Committee member in the village of Chakwawa in Mchinji District, taking part in a drama about the importance of safe motherhood. This member was trained by the project.

The demographic and health indicators for Malawi are among the worst in the world with an infant mortality rate of 104 per 1,000 live births, and under-five mortality rate of 188 per 1,000 live births. The maternal mortality ratio is desperately high – estimated at nearly 1000 per 100,000 live births.

More than half of women have had a child by the time they reach age 20, many of these pregnancies unplanned and unwanted. Approximately one third of all maternal deaths are due to unsafe abortions amongst teenage girls.

The Malawi Family and Reproductive Health project (2000-2006) ended in early 2006. It aimed to increase the utilization and to improve the quality of reproductive health, family planning, and safe motherhood services in Malawi through an improved relationship between the community and health service providers in three districts. It supported national reproductive health goals and strategies, and also explored the use of innovative approaches to strengthen community capacity, input and action on reproductive health issues.

The Canadian Public Health Association received financial support from the Canadian International Development Agency to the Family and Reproductive Health Project in Malawi. In partnership with United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the project was implemented in three districts through the Ministry of Health and Populations Reproductive Health Unit along with the support of District Health Management Teams (DHMTs) and collaborating non-governmental organizations. The project built upon the activities and achievements of the project’s first phase (1996-1999).

The core activities which supported by the project included:

  • Provision of essential drugs, supplies and equipment to local clinics;
  • Renovation of dilapidated community health facilities;
  • Strengthening of management systems for transport, communications, drugs and supplies;
  • Equipping health service providers with up-to-date clinical skills to provide improved safe motherhood, and family planning services, and treatment of sexually transmitted infections;
  • Training health service providers to offer youth-friendly reproductive and sexual health services in a sensitive and non-judgmental manner;
  • Improving health care workers’ communication and relational skills with communities, and promoting respect for client rights;
  • Reviving community structures which govern health centres such as Village Health Committees and provide community input to their management;
  • Capacity building in communities, including community structures such as Village Health Committees and youth clubs, to identify and address barriers to reproductive health.

The project promoted values of gender equity, and the shared responsibility between women and men for family and reproductive health.

As a result of the project, health centres are better equipped and have improved management of drugs and supplies. Community committees have been actively promoting messages which address socio-cultural barriers to reproductive health, and health centres have recorded increased demand for services, especially amongst young people.