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Analytical summary

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Life expectancy at birth depicts the overall mortality level of a population and summarizes the mortality pattern that prevails across all ages and by gender. The life expectancy at birth in Malawi is estimated at 48.3 years for males and 51.4 years for females. In 1977, the life expectancy for men was 39.2 years and for women was 42.4 years. This increased to 41.4 years and 44.6 years for men and women, respectively, in 1987. There has been a drop in life expectancy in Malawi, especially in the 1990s, mostly due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Mortality rates are used to monitor progress of a population's health status. Infant and child mortality rates measure child survival and reflect the social, economic and environmental conditions in which children live.

In Malawi, the major causes of infant deaths are pneumonia (23%), underweight (22%), diarrhoeal diseases (18%) and malaria (14%). After the first year of life, infections from the communicable childhood diseases of tetanus, whooping cough, diphtheria, poliomyelitis and measles are the major cause of death in children.

Under-five mortality rate has improved from 122 per 1000 live births in 2006 to 112 per 1000 live births in 2010. Infant mortality rate was estimated at 72 per 1000 live births in 2006 and is now 66 per 1000 live births in 2010. At this rate, the under-five mortality rate will decline to as low as 41 deaths per 1000 live births by 2015, implying that Malawi will likely reduce its under-five mortality rate by more than two thirds of its 1992 level. The Malawi Millennium Development Goals report 2010[1] shows that the country may achieve the Millennium Development Goal targets if such decreasing trends for under-five mortality rate and infant mortality rate continue.

The decline in infant and under-five mortality rates may be due to the supportive environment whereby the Government of Malawi has intensified investments in essential health care services. The Ministry of Health in Malawi, in collaboration with development partners and non-state actors, is implementing strategies aimed at reducing infant and child mortality, especially malaria-related morbidity and mortality. Such programmes include:

  • the Expanded Programme of Immunization;
  • deworming;
  • malaria control through distribution and use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets, isoniazid preventive therapy during pregnancy and management of malaria for children;
  • vitamin A supplementation;
  • promotion of prevention of mother-to-child transmission;
  • exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months;
  • effective management of childhood diarrhoea.

According to the Malawi demographic and health survey 2010,[2] Malawi’s maternal mortality ratio is at 675 deaths per 100 000 live births. Although still high, this is an improvement from 807 deaths per 100 000 live births in 2006. Many causes contribute to maternal mortality and morbidity in Malawi. The five direct causes of maternal death are haemorrhage, infection, unsafe abortion, pre-eclampsia /eclampsia and obstructed labour. Indirect causes include malaria, anaemia, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. The increase in maternal mortality ratio in the late 1990s has been attributed to the growing impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and inadequate investment resulting in deterioration of the health care system.

Expansion of the infrastructure for basic emergency obstetric care in rural areas and the signing of service-level agreements with mission health facilities to provide free care to mothers and children have contributed to the improvements in the maternal mortality ratio.

Under Millennium Development Goal 5, Malawi is expected to have a maternal mortality ratio of 155 per 1000 live births. For this Millennium Development Goal target to be achieved, additional measures need to be undertaken during the implementation of the Health Sector Strategic Plan 2011–2016.[3]


  1. 2010 Malawi Millennium Development Goals report (pdf 3.22Mb). Lilongwe, Government of Malawi, Ministry of Development Planning and Cooperation, 2010
  2. Malawi demographic and health survey 2010 (pdf 3.85Mb). Zomba, National Statistical Office and Calverton, Maryland, ICF Macro, 2011
  3. Malawi Health Sector Strategic Plan 2011–2016. Moving towards equity and quality (pdf 3.69Mb). Lilongwe, Government of Malawi, Ministry of Health, 2011