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1.  Magnitude of dental caries, missing and filled teeth in Malawi: National Oral Health Survey 
BMC Oral Health  2016;16:29.
Oral health problems are significant cause of morbidity particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. In Malawi, routine health management information system data over the years showed that oral health problems were one of the top ten reasons for outpatient attendance. However, to date, no national oral survey has been carried out to determine the prevalence of oral health problems.
A national population-based cross-sectional survey was conducted in 2013. A total of 130 enumeration areas (EAs) were randomly selected and from each EA, 40 participants were randomly selected as per WHO STEPS survey protocol. Eligible participants were 12, 15, 35–44 and 65–74 year old. A multi-stage sampling design was used to obtain a national representative sample of these age groups. Oral examination was based on WHO diagnostic criteria (2010).
A total of 5400 participants were enrolled in the survey. Of these: 3304 (61.3 %) were females, 2090 (38.7 %) were males; 327 (6.9 %) were from urban and 4386 (93.1 %) from rural areas; 1115 (20.6 %), 993 (17.3 %), 2306 (42.7 %) and 683 (12.6 %) were aged 12, 15, 35–44, 65–74 years respectively. Among 12 year-old, 15 year-old, 35–44 and 65–74 year age groups, prevalence of dental caries was 19.1, 21.9, 49.0 and 49.2 % respectively, overall 37.4 %. Prevalence of missing teeth was 2.7, 5.2, 47.7 and 79.9 %, overall 35.2 %. Prevalence of filled teeth was 0.2 %, 1.3 %, 8.7 %, 12.7 %, overall 6.5 %. Prevalence of bleeding gums was 13.0, 11.8, 30.8 and 36.1 %, overall 23.5 %. Toothache, dental caries and missing teeth were more common in females than males; 46.5 % vs 37.9 %, 40.5 % vs 32.4 %, 37.7 % vs 30.1 % respectively, all p < 0.05. Prevalence of dental caries and missing teeth in urban areas were as high as in the rural areas; 33.3 % vs 37.4 % and 30.9 % vs 33.7 % respectively, all p > 0.05. The mean number of decayed, missing and filled teeth (DMFT) in 12, 15, 35–44, 65–74 year old was 0.67, 0.71, 3.11 and 6.87 respectively. Self- reported brushing of teeth was poor with only 35.2 % of people brushed their teeth twice a day and tobacco smoking was high, particularly among adult males where one in five (22.9 %) was a smoker.
This study demonstrated that oral health problems are major public health problems in Malawi. One in five (21 %) adolescents aged 12–15 years and half (49 %) of adults aged 35 years or more had dental caries, half (48 %) and 80 % of the population aged 35–44, 65–74 years had missing teeth respectively. Toothache, dental caries and missing teeth were more prevalent in females than males and prevalence in urban was as high as in rural areas. Oral hygiene was poor with less than 40 % of the population brush their teeth twice a day and tobacco smoking was high, particularly in men where prevalence was 23 %. These findings could be used to develop evidence-informed national policy, action and resource mobilization plan and community based interventions to reduce the prevalence of oral health problems in Malawi.
PMCID: PMC4784360  PMID: 26956884
Oral health; Dental caries; Non-communicable diseases; Sub-Saharan Africa; Malawi
2.  Building a knowledge translation platform in Malawi to support evidence-informed health policy 
With the support of the World Health Organization’s Evidence-Informed Policy Network, knowledge translation platforms have been developed throughout Africa, the Americas, Eastern Europe, and Asia to further evidence-informed national health policy. In this commentary, we discuss the approaches, activities and early lessons learned from the development of a Knowledge Translation Platform in Malawi (KTPMalawi). Through ongoing leadership, as well as financial and administrative support, the Malawi Ministry of Health has strongly signalled its intention to utilize a knowledge translation platform methodology to support evidence-informed national health policy. A unique partnership between Dignitas International, a medical and research non-governmental organization, and the Malawi Ministry of Health, has established KTPMalawi to engage national-level policymakers, researchers and implementers in a coordinated approach to the generation and utilization of health-sector research. Utilizing a methodology developed and tested by knowledge translation platforms across Africa, a stakeholder mapping exercise and initial capacity building workshops were undertaken and a multidisciplinary Steering Committee was formed. This Steering Committee prioritized the development of two initial Communities of Practice to (1) improve data utilization in the pharmaceutical supply chain and (2) improve the screening and treatment of hypertension within HIV-infected populations. Each Community of Practice’s mandate is to gather and synthesize the best available global and local evidence and produce evidence briefs for policy that have been used as the primary input into structured deliberative dialogues. While a lack of sustained initial funding slowed its early development, KTPMalawi has greatly benefited from extensive technical support and mentorship by an existing network of global knowledge translation platforms. With the continued support of the Malawi Ministry of Health and the Evidence-Informed Policy Network, KTPMalawi can continue to build on its role in facilitating the use of evidence in the development and refinement of health policy in Malawi.
PMCID: PMC4673758  PMID: 26646212
Evidence-informed health policy; Knowledge translation; Knowledge translation platform; Malawi; Research uptake
3.  National health research system in Malawi: dead, moribund, tepid or flourishing? 
Several instruments at both the global and regional levels to which countries in the WHO African Region are party call for action by governments to strengthen national health research systems (NHRS). This paper debates the extent to which Malawi has fulfilled this commitment.
Some research literature has characterized African research – and by implication NHRS – as moribund. In our view, the Malawi government, with partner support, has made effort to strengthen the capacities of individuals and institutions that generate scientific knowledge. This is reflected in the Malawi national NHRS index (MNSR4HI) of 51%, which is within the 50%-69% range, and thus, it should be characterized as tepid with significant potential to flourish. Governance of research for health (R4H) has improved with the promulgation of the Malawi Science and Technology Act in 2003. However, lack of an explicit R4H policy, a strategic plan and a national R4H management forum undermines the government’s effectiveness in overseeing the operation of the NHRS. The mean index of ‘governance of R4H’ sub-functions was 67%, implying that research governance is tepid. Malawi has a national health research focal point, an R4H program, and four public and 11 private universities. The average index of ‘creating and sustaining resources’ sub-functions was 48.6%, meaning that R4H human and infrastructural resources can be considered to be in a moribund state. The average index of ‘producing and using research’ sub-functions of 50.4% implies that production and utilization of research findings in policy development and public health practice can best be described as tepid. Efforts need to be intensified to boost national research productivity. Over the five financial years 2011–2016 the government plans to spend 0.26% of its total health budget on R4H. The mean index of ‘financing’ sub-functions of 23.6% is within the range of 1-49%, which is considered moribund.
A functional NHRS is a prerequisite for the achievement of the health system goal of universal health coverage. Malawi, like majority of African countries, needs to invest more in strengthening R4H governance, developing and sustaining R4H resources, and producing and using research findings.
PMCID: PMC4392748  PMID: 25889757
National health research system; Stewardship; Governance; Developing and sustaining resources; Financing; Producing and using research
4.  Prevalence and correlates of diabetes mellitus in Malawi: population-based national NCD STEPS survey 
Previously considered as a disease of the affluent, west or urban people and not of public health importance, diabetes mellitus is increasingly becoming a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in sub-Saharan Africa. However, population-based data to inform prevention, treatment and control are lacking.
Using the WHO STEPwise approach to chronic disease risk factor surveillance, a population-based, nationwide cross-sectional survey was conducted between July and September 2009 on participants aged 25–64 years. A multi-stage cluster sample design and weighting were used to produce a national representative data for that age range. Detailed findings on the magnitude of diabetes mellitus and impaired fasting blood glucose are presented in this paper.
Fasting blood glucose measurement was conducted on 3056 participants (70.2% females, 87.9% from rural areas). The age- sex standardised population-based mean fasting blood glucose was 4.3 mmol/L (95% CI 4.1-4.4 mmol/L) with no significant differences by age, sex and location (urban/rural). The overall prevalence of impaired fasting blood glucose was 4.2% (95% CI 3.0%-5.4%). Prevalence of impaired blood glucose was higher in men than in women, 5.7% (95% CI 3.9%-7.5%) vs 2.7% (95% CI 1.6%- 3.8%), p < 0.01. In both men and women, prevalence of raised fasting blood glucose or currently on medication for diabetes was 5.6% (95% CI 2.6%- 8.5%). Although the prevalence of diabetes was higher in men than women, 6.5% (95% CI 2.6%-10.3%) vs 4.7% (95% CI 2.4%-7.0%), in rural than urban, 5.4% (95% CI 2.4%-8.4%) vs 4.4% (95% CI 2.8%-5.9%) and in males in rural than males in urban, 6.9% (95% CI 2.8%-11.0%) vs 3.2% (95% CI 0.1%-6.3%), the differences were not statistically significant, p > 0.05. Compared to previous estimates, prevalence of diabetes increased from <1.0% in 1960s to 5.6% in 2009 (this study).
High prevalence of impaired fasting blood glucose and diabetes mellitus call for the implementation of primary healthcare approaches such as the WHO package for essential non-communicable diseases to promote healthy lifestyles, early detection, treatment and control.
PMCID: PMC4018960  PMID: 24884894
Diabetes; Non-communicable diseases; Sub-Saharan Africa; Malawi
5.  Supporting middle-cadre health care workers in Malawi: lessons learned during implementation of the PALM PLUS package 
BMC Health Services Research  2014;14(Suppl 1):S8.
The government of Malawi is committed to the broad rollout of antiretroviral treatment in Malawi in the public health sector; however one of the primary challenges has been the shortage of trained health care workers. The Practical Approach to Lung Health Plus HIV/AIDS in Malawi (PALM PLUS) package is an innovative guideline and training intervention that supports primary care middle-cadre health care workers to provide front-line integrated primary care. The purpose of this paper is to describe the lessons learned in implementing the PALM PLUS package.
A clinical tool, based on algorithm- and symptom-based guidelines was adapted to the Malawian context. An accompanying training program based on educational outreach principles was developed and a cascade training approach was used for implementation of the PALM PLUS package in 30 health centres, targeting clinical officers, medical assistants, and nurses. Lessons learned were identified during program implementation through engagement with collaborating partners and program participants and review of program evaluation findings.
Key lessons learned for successful program implementation of the PALM PLUS package include the importance of building networks for peer-based support, ensuring adequate training capacity, making linkages with continuing professional development accreditation and providing modest in-service training budgets. The main limiting factors to implementation were turnover of staff and desire for financial training allowances.
The PALM PLUS approach is a potential model for supporting mid-level health care workers to provide front-line integrated primary care in low and middle income countries, and may be useful for future task-shifting initiatives.
PMCID: PMC4108880  PMID: 25080192
training; educational outreach; task-shifting; continuing professional development; antiretroviral treatment; integrated primary care; nurses; clinical officers; medical assistants; health surveillance assistants; guideline; train-the-trainer; south-south collaboration; formation; sensibilisation; délégation de tâches; formation continue; soins primaires intégrés; personnel infirmier; personnel clinique; auxiliaires médicaux; adjoints à la surveillance sanitaire; lignes directrices; formation des formateurs; collaboration Sud-Sud
6.  Anthropometric measurements and prevalence of underweight, overweight and obesity in adult Malawians: nationwide population based NCD STEPS survey 
Overweight and obesity are significant causes of increased morbidity and premature mortality from non-communicable diseases, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, although local high quality population-based data to inform policies and strategies are lacking.
Using the WHO STEPwise approach to chronic disease risk factor surveillance, population-based nationwide survey was conducted on participants aged 25-64 years in Malawi. A multi-stage cluster sample design and weighting were used to produce a national representative data for that age range.
A total of 4845 participants (65.7% females, 87.6% from rural areas) had complete anthropometric data and included in this analysis. Overall (both sexes) population-based mean body weight, height, systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol were estimated at 58.7 kg, 159.9 cm, 133.4 mmHg, 79.5 mmHg, 4.3 mmol/L, 4.4 mmol/L respectively. Prevalence of underweight, overweight, obesity, overweight and/ or obesity and central adiposity were 6.5%, 17.3%, 4.6%, 21.9% and 28.8% respectively. Overweight, obesity, overweight and/ or obesity and central adiposity were more frequent in females than males (20.7% vs 14.1%, 7.4% vs 2.0%, 28.1% vs 16.1% and 52.8% vs 5.6%), in urban than rural areas (23.2% vs 16.6%, 12.0% vs 3.7%, 35.2% vs 20.2%) respectively.
This study demonstrated that overweight and/ or obesity is the major public health problem affecting at least one in five adults in Malawi. The problem is more frequent in females than males and urban than rural. Implementation of primary health care approaches such as WHO package for essential non-communicable diseases could reduce the problem.
PMCID: PMC3828071  PMID: 24244794
Anthropometric measurements; overweight; obesity; sub-Saharan Africa; Malawi
7.  Burden of cancer in Malawi; common types, incidence and trends: National population-based cancer registry 
BMC Research Notes  2012;5:149.
Cancer is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide with a majority of cases and deaths occurring in developing countries. While cancer of the lung, breast, colorectum, stomach and prostate are the most common types of cancer globally, in east and southern Africa these are less common and comprehensive data to inform policies are lacking.
Nationwide cancer registry was conducted between September and October 2010 in Malawi. New cancer cases registered from 2007 to 2010 were identified from hospital and clinic registers of 81 out of 84 health facilities providing cancer diagnosis, treatment or palliative care services. Demographic and cancer data were extracted from registers and case notes using a standard form.
A total of 18,946 new cases of cancer were registered in Malawi from 2007-2010. Of these 55.9% were females, 7.2% were children aged less than 15 years, 76.5% were adults aged 15-59 years and 16.4% were elderly aged 60 years or more. Only 17.9% of the cases had histologically verified diagnosis, 33.2% were diagnosed clinically and 49.6% based on clinical and some investigations. Amongst females, cancer of the cervix was the commonest accounting for 45.4% of all cases followed by Kaposi sarcoma (21.1%), cancer of the oesophagus (8.2%), breast (4.6%) and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (4.1%). In males, Kaposi sarcoma was the most frequent (50.7%) then cancer of oesophagus (16.9%), non-Hodgkin lymphoma (7.8), prostate (4.0%) and urinary bladder (3.7%). Age-standardised incidence rate per 100,000 population for all types of cancer in males increased from 31 in 1999-2002 to 56 in 2007-2010. In females it increased from 29 to 69. Kaposi sarcoma and cancer of the oesophagus, cervical cancer and Kaposi sarcoma were the main causes for the increased incidence in males and females respectively. It was estimated that, annually at least 8,151 new cases of cancer (all types) occur in Malawi.
This study provided data on common types and trends of cancer that could be used to focus prevention, treatment and control interventions in the context of limited resources. The problem of under-reporting and misdiagnosis of cancer cases has been highlighted.
PMCID: PMC3327635  PMID: 22424105
Cancer; Non-communicable diseases; Sub-Saharan Africa; Malawi
8.  Evaluating a streamlined clinical tool and educational outreach intervention for health care workers in Malawi: the PALM PLUS case study 
Nearly 3 million people in resource-poor countries receive antiretrovirals for the treatment of HIV/AIDS, yet millions more require treatment. Key barriers to treatment scale up are shortages of trained health care workers, and challenges integrating HIV/AIDS care with primary care.
The research
PALM PLUS (Practical Approach to Lung Health and HIV/AIDS in Malawi) is an intervention designed to simplify and integrate existing Malawian national guidelines into a single, simple, user-friendly guideline for mid-level health care workers. Training utilizes a peer-to-peer educational outreach approach. Research is being undertaken to evaluate this intervention to generate evidence that will guide future decision-making for consideration of roll out in Malawi. The research consists of a cluster randomized trial in 30 public health centres in Zomba District that measures the effect of the intervention on staff satisfaction and retention, quality of patient care, and costs through quantitative, qualitative and health economics methods.
Results and outcomes
In the first phase of qualitative inquiry respondents from intervention sites demonstrated in-depth knowledge of PALM PLUS compared to those from control sites. Participants in intervention sites felt that the PALM PLUS tool empowered them to provide better health services to patients. Interim staff retention data shows that there were, on average, 3 to 4 staff departing from the control and intervention sites per month. Additional qualitative, quantitative and economic analyses are planned.
The partnership
Dignitas International and the Knowledge Translation Unit at the University of Cape Town Lung Institute have led the adaptation and development of the PALM PLUS intervention, using experience gained through the implementation of the South African precursor, PALSA PLUS. The Malawian partners, REACH Trust and the Research Unit at the Ministry of Health, have led the qualitative and economic evaluations. Dignitas and Ministry of Health have facilitated interaction with implementers and policy-makers.
Challenges and successes
This initiative is an example of South-South knowledge translation between South Africa and Malawi, mediated by a Canadian academic-NGO hybrid. Our success in developing and rolling out PALM PLUS in Malawi suggests that it is possible to adapt and implement this intervention for use in other resource-limited settings.
PMCID: PMC3247831  PMID: 22166125
9.  From PALSA PLUS to PALM PLUS: adapting and developing a South African guideline and training intervention to better integrate HIV/AIDS care with primary care in rural health centers in Malawi 
Only about one-third of eligible HIV/AIDS patients receive anti-retroviral treatment (ART). Decentralizing treatment is crucial to wider and more equitable access, but key obstacles are a shortage of trained healthcare workers (HCW) and challenges integrating HIV/AIDS care with other primary care. This report describes the development of a guideline and training program (PALM PLUS) designed to integrate HIV/AIDS care with other primary care in Malawi. PALM PLUS was adapted from PALSA PLUS, developed in South Africa, and targets middle-cadre HCWs (clinical officers, nurses, and medical assistants). We adapted it to align with Malawi's national treatment protocols, more varied healthcare workforce, and weaker health system infrastructure.
The international research team included the developers of the PALSA PLUS program, key Malawi-based team members and personnel from national and district level Ministry of Health (MoH), professional associations, and an international non-governmental organization. The PALSA PLUS guideline was extensively revised based on Malawi national disease-specific guidelines. Advice and input was sought from local clinical experts, including middle-cadre personnel, as well as Malawi MoH personnel and representatives of Malawian professional associations.
An integrated guideline adapted to Malawian protocols for adults with respiratory conditions, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and other primary care conditions was developed. The training program was adapted to Malawi's health system and district-level supervision structure. PALM PLUS is currently being piloted in a cluster-randomized trial in health centers in Malawi (ISRCTN47805230).
The PALM PLUS guideline and training intervention targets primary care middle-cadre HCWs with the objective of improving HCW satisfaction and retention, and the quality of patient care. Successful adaptations are feasible, even across health systems as different as those of South Africa and Malawi.
PMCID: PMC3162564  PMID: 21791048
10.  The Burden of Selected Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases and Their Risk Factors in Malawi: Nationwide STEPS Survey 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(5):e20316.
Chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are becoming significant causes of morbidity and mortality, particularly in sub-Saharan African countries, although local, high-quality data to inform evidence-based policies are lacking.
To determine the magnitude of NCDs and their risk factors in Malawi.
Using the WHO STEPwise approach to chronic disease risk factor surveillance, a population-based, nationwide cross-sectional survey was conducted between July and September 2009 on participants aged 25–64 years. Socio-demographic and behaviour risk factors were collected in Step 1. Physical anthropometric measurements and blood pressure were documented in Step 2. Blood cholesterol and fasting blood glucose were measured in Step 3.
Results and Conclusion
A total of 5,206 adults (67% females) were surveyed. Tobacco smoking, alcohol drinking and raised blood pressure (BP) were more frequent in males than females, 25% vs 3%, 30% vs 4% and 37% vs 29%. Overweight, physical inactivity and raised cholesterol were more common in females than males, 28% vs 16%, 13% vs 6% and 11% vs 6%. Tobacco smoking was more common in rural than urban areas 11% vs 7%, and overweight and physical inactivity more common in urban than rural areas 39% vs 22% and 24% vs 9%, all with p<0.05. Overall (both sexes) prevalence of tobacco smoking, alcohol consumption, overweight and physical inactivity was 14%, 17%, 22%, 10% and prevalence of raised BP, fasting blood sugar and cholesterol was 33%, 6% and 9% respectively. These data could be useful in the formulation and advocacy of NCD policy and action plan in Malawi.
PMCID: PMC3100352  PMID: 21629735
11.  Strengthening health human resources and improving clinical outcomes through an integrated guideline and educational outreach in resource-poor settings: a cluster-randomized trial 
Trials  2010;11:118.
In low-income countries, only about a third of Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS) patients eligible for anti-retroviral treatment currently receive it. Providing decentralized treatment close to where patients live is crucial to a faster scale up, however, a key obstacle is limited health system capacity due to a shortage of trained health-care workers and challenges of integrating HIV/AIDS care with other primary care services (e.g. tuberculosis, malaria, respiratory conditions). This study will test an adapted primary care health care worker training and guideline intervention, Practical Approach to Lung Health and HIV/AIDS Malawi (PALM PLUS), on staff retention and satisfaction, and quality of patient care.
A cluster-randomized trial design is being used to compare usual care with a standardized clinical guideline and training intervention, PALM PLUS. The intervention targets middle-cadre health care workers (nurses, clinical officers, medical assistants) in 30 rural primary care health centres in a single district in Malawi. PALM PLUS is an integrated, symptom-based and user-friendly guideline consistent with Malawian national treatment protocols. Training is standardized and based on an educational outreach approach. Trainers will be front-line peer healthcare workers trained to provide outreach training and support to their fellow front-line healthcare workers during focused (1-2 hours), intermittent, interactive sessions on-site in health centers. Primary outcomes are health care worker retention and satisfaction. Secondary outcomes are clinical outcomes measured at the health centre level for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, prevention-of-mother-to-child-transmission of HIV and other primary care conditions. Effect sizes and 95% confidence intervals for outcomes will be presented. Assessment of outcomes will occur at 1 year post- implementation.
The PALM PLUS trial aims to address a key problem: strengthening middle-cadre health care workers to support the broader scale up of HIV/AIDS services and their integration into primary care. The trial will test whether the PALM PLUS intervention improves staff satisfaction and retention, as well as the quality of patient care, when compared to usual practice.
Trial Registration
Current controlled Trials: ISRCTN47805230
PMCID: PMC3017521  PMID: 21129211

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