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Analytical summary - Child and adolescent health

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Acute respiratory infection, fever and diarrhoea are among the leading causes of childhood mortality and morbidity in Malawi. The prevalence of childhood diseases in Malawi is high, with 35% of children aged under 5 years reported to have fever, which is a symptom of malaria but may also accompany other childhood illnesses. Also, 18% of children aged under 5 years have diarrhoeal episodes and 7% of children aged under 5 years have acute respiratory infection.

The nutritional status of children in Malawi has improved, although it is still low. A total of 47% of children aged under 5 years are stunted, 4% are wasted and 13% are underweight. The improvement in nutritional status of children aged under 5 years is due to a number of factors including:

  • the introduction of key practices and services related to nutrition, such as promotion of exclusive breastfeeding practices, which increased from 3% in 1992 to 53.3% in 2004;[1][2]
  • increased coverage of vitamin A supplementation;
  • management of malnourished children with the adoption of the community therapeutic care approach;
  • improved coordination and networks among stakeholders.

Immunization coverage of children aged 12–23 months increased from 64% in 2004 to 81% in 2010. A total of 72% of children are fully immunized by 12 months of age, i.e. they were vaccinated on time.

Prevention measures are being scaled-up to prevent childhood diseases. Malaria control activities are being implemented, including the use of insecticide-treated nets and indoor residual spraying. Almost 47% of children sleep under a mosquito net and 39% sleep under an insecticide-treated net. With regards to prevention of diarrhoeal diseases, the country is implementing control measures, including increased coverage and use of improved water and sanitation facilities.

Available data show that the use of postnatal services in Malawi is low. According to the Malawi demographic and health survey 2010,[3] 6% of mothers receive postnatal care within 24 hours of delivery while 11% receive postnatal care within 2 days of delivery.[3] Women face many factors in seeking care during pregnancy and at delivery, including unavailability of drugs at facility (61%), long distances to health facility (56%), lack of transport to a health facility (54%) and lack of money for treatment (52%).

Malawi is implementing a number of interventions to strengthen maternal and neonatal services, including:

  • integrated focused antenatal care
  • basic emergency obstetric and neonatal care mother-friendly services
  • community-based neonatal care
  • kangaroo mother care
  • signing of service-level agreements with the private sector on maternal and neonatal services.

Data from the Malawi demographic and health survey 2010[3] show that among children with symptoms of acute respiratory infection, 70% sought advice or treatment from a health facility or a health provider and 65% of children with fever were taken to a health facility for treatment. Of these, 43% received an antimalarial drug. Among children under 5 years who had diarrhoea, 74% were treated with oral rehydration therapy or increased fluids and 69% were treated with oral rehydration salt packets or prepackaged liquid.

Malawi has developed policies for addressing the various issues related to child and adolescent health. With regard to nutrition, Malawi has developed:

The National Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Policy 2009 addresses, among other things, maternal and neonatal health and adolescent issues. Malaria, acute respiratory infections and diarrhoeal diseases are priority diseases that the health sector is addressing through the Essential Health Package. Through the sector-wide approach, both financial and human resources have been allocated to these priorities.


  1. Malawi demographic and health survey 1992 (pdf 3.54Mb). Zomba, National Statistical Office and Calverton, Maryland, ICF Macro, 1994
  2. Malawi demographic and health survey 2004 (pdf 3.99 Mb). Zomba, National Statistical Office and Calverton, Maryland, ICF Macro, 2005
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Malawi demographic and health survey 2010 (pdf 3.85Mb). Zomba, National Statistical Office and Calverton, Maryland, ICF Macro, 2011