UK aid cuts impact may be 'catastrophic' for women and girls in Malawi

Girls learn how to make reusable sanitary pads at a Baptist health centre in Malawi. Photo by: Madalitso Wills Kateta / Devex

Every Wednesday, 19-year-old Gracious Phiri from Mikute village in central Malawi, takes a 5-kilometer journey to Senga Bay Baptist Medical Clinic where she and other young people in the Salima district engage in recreational activities and access youth-friendly sexual reproductive health services.

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Phiri, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, is now in her final year of high school, is sexually active and worries about falling pregnant and contracting sexually transmitted diseases. She credits the centers’ programs — which include comprehensive sexual education — for helping her avoid these pitfalls.

“I have seen how some girls have died from backyard abortions and without these programs, many more girls that want to continue with their education will be dying,” she said.

But health workers fear that a recent decision by the United Kingdom to make an 85% reduction in aid funding to the United Nations Population Fund which supplies reproductive health programs in Malawi may negatively impact this program and other family planning programs.

Won Young Hong, the UNFPA representative in Malawi, said the funding cut means that Malawi will have 50% less family planning commodities available by 2022 and that the unmet family planning need is likely to double from 18% to 36%, which may trigger an increase in unplanned pregnancies among adolescents and women.

“With normal family planning supplies, Malawi adds approximately half a million babies annually and 50% less of family planning supplies will undoubtedly have [a] serious impact on the population,” she said.

Dorothy Simfukwe, a community-based distribution agent in the Salima District, who is responsible for ensuring that family planning services are available to the last mile in her local community added the impact of the aid cuts would be “catastrophic.”

“The most sad part is that most of the people from the area are poor and the cut in aid means that most of these poor people will not afford to access family planning and contraceptive methods at a cost from private facilities,” she said.

The aid cuts come at a time when Malawi is already dealing with an increase in teenage pregnancies because of the COVID-19 pandemic. An assessment on the effects of the pandemic on teenage pregnancies and child marriages found that the country recorded over 40,000 cases of teenage pregnancies between March and July last year —  an 11% increase compared to the same period in 2019.

McDonald Makwakwa, executive director at the Family Planning Association of Malawi, said the U.K. government should reconsider its decision as the consequences from the cuts could be fatal.

“Malawi has already witnessed a sharp increase in teenage pregnancies and child marriages during the COVID-19 pandemic, if the U.K. continues with its decision to reduce its resources that equip basic health infrastructure for women and girls to access family planning, more girls and women will die of unsafe abortions,” he said.

About the author

  • Madalitso Wills Kateta

    Madaliso Wills Kateta is a freelance journalist based in Lilongwe, Malawi. Kateta specializes in gender, human rights, climate change, politics and global development reporting. He has written for Thompson Reuters Foundation, The New Humanitarian, African Arguments, Equal Times, and others.