The landlocked country of Malawi has a life expectancy rate of 60.2 years for males and 64.3 years for females. While this is much lower than the global average of 69.8 years for males and 74.2 years for females, it represents an improvement from previous years. These eight facts about life expectancy in Malawi will help shed light on the reasons for the low rate as well as what the country has done, and can still do, to improve it:
8 Facts About Life Expectancy in Malawi
- HIV/AIDS: As of 2017, an estimated 1 million people in Malawi were living with HIV/AIDS which places the country at 10th in the world in terms of the number of people living with HIV/AIDS. In addition, there were also 13,000 deaths from the virus in the same year. Still, the government has made major strides to curb the epidemic in the last 10 years. Part of its strategy includes providing free condoms as well as educating young people. As of 2018, 78 percent of all people living with HIV in Malawi are on medication. There was also a decline in the number of new infections from 55,000 in 2010 to 38,000 in 2018.
- Maternal Health: In 2015, maternal mortality stood at 634 deaths for every 100,000 live births. This is considerably higher than the global average of 216 deaths per 100,000 live births. However, it represents a significant improvement as the government along with support from USAID has been able to reduce maternal mortality by 53 percent between 1990 and 2013. Today, more expectant mothers in both rural and urban areas are now receiving prenatal care as well as skilled birth assistance.
- Child Health: Great improvements have also been made in terms of child health, as most children under 5 in both rural and urban areas are vaccinated. This has helped reduce deaths from communicable childhood diseases such as measles, tetanus and pneumonia. The Ministry of Health has also implemented strategies like deworming and has also distributed vitamin A supplements to deal with other major causes of childhood death.
- Fertility Rate: In the 1980s Malawian women had about seven children per woman. Today, that number is at 5.5 children per woman. The high fertility rate affects life expectancy in Malawi as it puts pressure on the government to provide adequate social amenities in order to improve people’s lives.
- Population Growth: According to a 2018 census, Malawi’s population is 17.6 million people. By 2020 this is projected to hit 20.2 million, before doubling by 2050. This rapid population growth puts a lot of pressure on the country’s land, water and forest resources and threatens life expectancy as most Malawians derive their income from agriculture. The Third Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS III) sets out a number of policies including promoting family planning and sexual and reproductive health rights as a means to slow population growth, and better managing migration and urbanization.
- Infectious Diseases: Malawians are at very high risk of contracting infectious diseases. Food and waterborne diseases include diarrheal diseases and typhoid fever. In order to deal with diarrheal deaths, Malawians are in need of nutritious food as well as an unpolluted environment. Other diseases include malaria, dengue fever and rabies from animal contact. The country has been dealing with malaria by subsidizing mosquito nets. Additionally, Malawi is one of the three African countries taking part in a malaria vaccine pilot. The pilot aims to reach 360,000 children each year across Kenya, Ghana and Malawi.
- Water and Sanitation: One in three Malawians do not have access to clean water while 9.6 million people do not have a decent toilet. This affects the life expectancy in Malawi as it leads to an increase in diarrheal diseases. With the support of UNICEF and organizations such as Water Aid, the government of Malawi has made significant progress in reducing the number of people who lack access to safe water. Additionally, the rate of open defecation has declined from 29 percent in 1990 to four percent in 2015.
- Education: Malawi introduced free primary education in 1994 which put a strain on the education system. This is because the infrastructure, number of teachers and number of teaching and learning materials were inadequate when compared to the number of students who enrolled. It resulted in poor performance by the students, especially in terms of literacy. The government of Malawi has been making an effort to improve the education sector by allocating more than 20 percent of the national budget to education. It has also partnered with bodies such as USAID and UNICEF to improve literacy levels as well as student enrollment and completion rates. An educated and skilled population will help increase Malawi’s economic growth. Educational reforms will help reduce the unemployment rate which is currently more than 20 percent.
Malawi is considered one of the poorest countries in the world, and a lot still needs to be done to improve the lives of its people. It is however clear that the government is working with the support of nonprofit organizations around the world to make life better for its people.
– Sophia Wanyonyi