Your guide to health insurance in Malawi
Looking for a home in the “Warm Heart of Africa”? Malawi is a landlocked country located to Zambia’s southeast, Tanzania’s southwest, and Mozambique’s north, northeast, and northwest. It houses two stunning sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List: Lake Malawi National Park and Chongoni Rock Art Area. You can be a witness to Malawi's natural beauty.
Despite a wide spectrum of ethnic groups and tribes residing in Malawi, they share a mutual appreciation of dancing and music. In addition, you'll find a strong tradition in basketry, mask carving, and oil paintings.
As one of the world’s most densely populated and least developed countries, Malawi's economy is mostly based on agriculture. As a result, around 85% of the population lives in rural areas. This has made the government’s mission to provide healthcare for all citizens difficult.
In this Pacific Prime article, we'll give you an overview of the Malawi healthcare system, as well as your health insurance options here.
State of healthcare in Malawi
The Malawian health care system is currently in a crisis. Equipment and infrastructure are in dire need of an update. On top of that, medical supplies and staff are limited. Most Malawians also lack basic medical and first-aid knowledge. As a result, even if they have access to simple medical supplies, they rely on hospital staff to administer basic first aid, and treat minor illnesses or injuries. Naturally, this greatly increases the patient base and workload at local hospitals.
All of these factors contribute to the broken state of the current Malawian health care system.
Public healthcare system in Malawi
The Ministry of Health and Population (MOHP) is responsible for the Malawian health care system. They develop all policies, regulations, and programs. All the funding comes from the government, but mostly from international aid. Here, health services are organized into a three-tiered system where resources trickle down between tiers, often leaving the bottom tiers with barely any medical supplies.
Expect to see three levels of care: primary, secondary, tertiary in this patient referral system. Through referral and the severity of your case, you'll move up the tiers.
1. Third tier
You enter the system at this level and move up the tier as needed. The first tier is where you can find rural health centers and hospitals. Here, there may be marginally trained clinicians to provide primary care.
This bottom tier also provides a few additional functions. Rural health centers try to specialize in pre-natal and post-natal care. Malawians struggle with an alarmingly high infant mortality rate. As of 2000, 1 in 7 women died of birth complications. Also, medical facilities at this level double as a health education center.
2. Second tier
Made up of district hospitals scattered throughout the 27 districts, you'll find more basic health supplies in the second tier. However, the conditions are generally not much better. Although you'll possibly have access to x-ray machines and diagnostic laboratories, the equipment is usually dilapidated. There may be a few nurses and clinicians, but doctors are rare. Doctors who can perform more complicated medical procedures are virtually nonexistent.
3. First tier
Armed with the most advanced equipment, supplies, medicine, and staff, first tier facilities provide tertiary care to Malawians. Unfortunately, these hospitals are only found in the largest urban areas of the country. Even at the top, there's still a lack of supplies and staff. There are less than 100 registered doctors and 3,000 registered nurses for all of the country’s 12,000,000 Malawians. Both doctors and nurses have to work long hours. Furthermore, they have little protection from the illnesses that their patients may carry. Thus, most medical professionals who have trained in the country’s medical schools choose to leave Malawi.
Private healthcare system in Malawi
Still, there are a number of alternatives to the public health care system here. You'll find several private-for-profit clinics in urban areas. With that said, prices are well above what the majority of Malawians can afford. In addition, some foreign organizations, such as the Christian Health Association of Malawi (CHAM) charge affordable rates or even provide free services. Foreign and domestic NGOs running small local health projects are also available to provide services at the community level. To ensure that they are following national policies and standards, most of these organizations work closely with the MOHP.
Strong cultural practices and religious beliefs have made traditional medicine a large part of the Malawian health care system. Most people will choose to use both traditional and allopathic medicine to complement each other. There are two types of traditional doctors. Traditional healers deal mainly with diseases of the body and spirit, and their practices vary between different sects. Each traditional healer may have their own practices and rituals. Many also include preaching and sermons in their therapies in order to remove demons from a patient.
Traditional birth attendants (TBA) provide the other type of traditional medicine. TBAs tend to have more primary health care training and provide allopathic pre-natal and post-natal care services that are integrated with religious and traditional practices. The MOHP works closely with the traditional medical community to ensure safe, sanitary practices and to increase awareness of basic public health education.
Health problems in Malawi
There are several major health problems plaguing the "Warm Heart of Africa". In this section, we'll give you a snapshot of what they are.
1. Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
One of the most pressing health problems of Malawi is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) epidemic. About 16–18% of Malawians are infected. The majority of these are in the most productive age group of the population, ages 18-49. Not only does HIV strongly affect the health sector of Malawi, but it also has wide-spreading effects on the social and economic sectors of the country. Approximately, 80,000 people a year die from Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). This leaves about 600,000 orphans, who must live with relatives or on the streets, which puts pressure on Malawian social services.
AIDS medicine is also not accessible to most Malawians because of how expensive it is to distribute the medicine. Despite the MOHP's attempt at education, the effects on the Malawi public are small and slow.
As the mosquito population increases, malarial infections increase. Malawians are particularly at high risk because there is no access to running water and pit latrines are used. It is responsible for 40% of hospitalizations and hospital deaths here.
3. Clean water
Another major problem in Malawi is the lack of sanitary hygiene practices. To prevent diarrhea and contacting other diseases, remember to drink tap water only. Cultural beliefs and traditional practices have led to poor health conditions. For example, houses are poorly ventilated, and people tend to bathe, put their waste in, and get their drinking water from rivers and local water sources.
Accessing healthcare services in Malawi
Tourists and expatriates can use the health care facilities free of charge. Nonetheless, the standards, range of services, and supplies are significantly below Western standards. This is particularly apparent in rural parts of Malawi. Due to their large patient base, waiting times at public hospitals can also take a day or longer.
We strongly encourage you to secure an international health insurance policy before moving to Malawi. Be sure to look for a policy that includes emergency evacuation coverage. For serious accidents or illnesses, an emergency evacuation may be needed, which can be extremely expensive without insurance coverage.
Travelers are recommended to get their hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid, rabies, and tuberculosis vaccinations before heading to Malawi. Recently, tuberculosis incidence rates have significantly increased. Always bring adequate supplies of personal prescription medications and supplies.
Malaria is also endemic in Malawi. Be sure to bring malaria medicine, insect repellant, and bed nets to protect from malaria and mosquitoes that may carry the disease.
Travelers in Malawi, who suspect that they may have malaria and need help with diagnosis, can contact the CDC malaria hotline at 770-488-7788 (M-F, 9am-5pm, Eastern time). If it is an emergency, call 770-488-7100 to speak with a CDC Malaria Branch clinician.
Protect yourself with private health insurance
Traveling to Malawi carries multiple health risks. Here, the quality of the healthcare facilities are also a far cry from hospitals back at home. That's why you should protect yourself with international healthcare insurance.
We would also recommend an insurance plan that covers your repatriation costs. If you are injured, you may want to receive the best care for your condition outside of the country. In most cases, the cost to transfer you back home can be incredibly steep!
Pacific Prime has over two decades of experience as brokers in the insurance industry. We are committed to finding the perfect health insurance plan to suit your budget and needs. Most importantly, our highly-trained experts provide free quotations, leverage our close partnerships with all major insurers, and have an extensive portfolio that consists of all the best plans. Contact us today so we can help!