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Analytical summary - Social determinants


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According to the 2008 Population and housing census,[1] Malawi has a total population of 13.08 million. The population is growing at an annual growth rate of 2.8%. Census results indicate that:

  • 7% of the total population is aged under 1 year
  • 22% is aged under 5 years
  • 46% is aged 18 years and older
  • a further 4% is aged 65 years and older.

This indicates that Malawi has a youthful population with potential to grow.

The population of Malawi is unevenly distributed among the three regions: 45% reside in the Southern Region, 42% in the Central Region and 13% in the Northern Region. Urbanization is low in Malawi, with just 15.3% of the population residing in urban areas in 2008.

In general, the infrastructure in Malawi is grossly inadequate and a source of high production costs for industry. Overall, the infrastructure limitations in Malawi can be attributed to:

  • weak transport infrastructure (network and condition)
  • high cost of transportation, resulting in high cost of goods and services
  • unreliable and expensive utilities (water, electricity and telecommunication)
  • weak capacity of information technology in both private and public sectors.

The Government of Malawi has singled out transport infrastructure, energy, water and sanitation, and research, science and technology as key priority areas for the Malawi Growth Development Strategy II (2011–2016).[2]

Poverty in Malawi is still widespread. In 2009, the proportion of the population living below the poverty line was estimated at 39%, a slight drop from 40% in 2008. A total of 43% of the rural population lived below the poverty line, while in urban areas the proportion was 14%.[3]

Malawi has been implementing poverty reduction strategies through the Malawi Poverty Reduction Strategy, [4] the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy 2006–2010[5] and the newly developed Malawi Growth and Development Strategy II (2011–2016).[2]

Malawi has one of the most unequal income distributions in Africa, as reflected by its Gini Index of 0.62 in 1996. Results of the Integrated Household Surveys show that the poorest 20% of the population controlled 10% of national consumption. Progress has been achieved in recent years, with the proportion of the population living on less than US$ 1 per day declining from 50% in 2005 to 39% in 2009. Among the poorest, the depth of poverty has also declined since 2005, as evidenced by a decline in the poverty gap. Despite these achievements, challenges remain in connection with the levels of income inequality, which remain high.

Gender inequality exists in Malawi and negatively affects women more than men. In Malawi, women constitute 52% of the population and are mostly marginalized in social and economic spheres and unable to contribute effectively to social, economic and political development. One factor contributing to this is the higher illiteracy among women (56%) compared with men (28%). This is caused by the high female dropout rates from the formal schooling system, among other things.

The Government introduced free primary education in 1993 and enrolment increased from 1.9 million to about 3 million. Although enrolment increased, studies have found that only 30% of the children who start Standard 1 reach Standard 8, implying that 70% of children drop out of school before reaching Standard 8.

In 2008, the literacy rate in Malawi stood at 62% and was higher among men (69%) than women (59%). National surveys show that health indicators are worse among people who have no or little education than among those who have secondary school level of education or above.

The Malawi multiple indicator cluster survey 2006[6] shows that underweight among children aged under 5 years and the prevalence of diarrhoea and malaria in children aged under 5 years decreased the higher the educational level of the mother. These health indicators are also better among wealthier than poorer people. Therefore, improving income and educational levels would lead to improvement in health status.

The Government has established national institutional structures that support the development of science and technology, including the National Research Council, Malawi Industrial Research and Technology Development Centre and a fully fledged department responsible for science and technology.

Technology is generated through a continuous research and development process. However, scientific and technological developments are still weak, underexploited and poorly support the socioeconomic development of the country. Factors constraining the integration of science and technology in national development include:

  • poor coordination of research, science and technology activities
  • weak institutional frameworks
  • inadequate funding of science and technological initiatives.

Malawi is frequently affected by natural disasters and calamities. There is a need to put in place adequate disaster risk management measures that go beyond emergency response to preparedness, prevention and mitigation as well as rehabilitation and reconstruction. Nevertheless, disaster risk management efforts face a number of challenges and constraints, among which are inadequate funding, poor response to disasters and lack of an effective early-warning system.

Malawi hosts a number of refugees living in its only refugee camp, Dzaleka Camp. The number of refugees at the camp has increased from 6963 in 2004 to 12 525 in 2011. The refugees come from different countries within the WHO African Region.

The Department of Disaster Management Affairs in the Office of the President and Cabinet is responsible for managing and coordinating the implementation of policies and programmes. In 2011, the Department drafted the National Risk Management Policy to provide guidelines for the management of disasters in the country. Several multisectoral committees have been established to ensure effective implementation of the programmes.


  1. 2008 Population and housing census. Preliminary report (pdf 194.86kb). Lilongwe, Government of Malawi, National Statistical Office, 2008
  2. 2.0 2.1 Malawi Growth and Development Strategy II (2011–2016) (7.12Mb). Malawi: Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper. Lilongwe, Government of Malawi, 2012
  3. Population census 2009. Zomba, National Statistical Office, 2009
  4. Malawi Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper. Final draft (pdf 2Mb). Lilongwe, Government of Malawi, 2002
  5. Malawi Growth and Development Strategy 2006–2011 (pdf 384.84kb). Lilongwe, Government of Malawi, 2006
  6. Monitoring the situation of children and women. Malawi multiple indicator cluster survey (MICS) 2006. Preliminary report (pdf 838.2kb). Zomba, National Statistics Office and Lilongwe, United Nations Children’s Fund, 2007