Focus on Africa: Contraception blocked in Malawi following Cyclone Idai

Residents stand on rooftops in a flooded area of Buzi, central Mozambique, 20 March 2019.
Residents stand on rooftops in a flooded area of Buzi, central Mozambique, 20 March 2019. Photo: Adrien Barbier

Malawi faces a pregnancy crisis as supplies of contraceptives remain stuck at a Mozambican port ravaged by Cyclone Idai.


The Blantyre-based Nation newspaper reports that Cyclone Idai struck the port city of Beira just as huge stocks of the critical family planning commodities were on the point of being transported to the land-locked country.

The publication quotes Malawi’s director of reproductive health Fannie Kachale as saying that she could not specify when the disruptions in the supply of contraceptives will be resolved.

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Broken supply chain

Contraceptives are a corner stone of the Malawi’s demographic and health policy as the government struggles with a baby boom crisis that has seen the population increase by 35 percent in a decade.

In its own coverage of the disruptions in contraceptive supplies Nyasa Times notes that the latest demographic and health survey puts the current demand for family planning at an all-time high of 78 percent.

Experts in the capital Lilongwe say it could take months before the flooded warehouses at the Mozambican port are cleared and delivery routes reopened for truckers.

Edith Kambalame is Deputy Editor of the Blantyre-based Nation newspaper which is following government efforts to deal with the crisis.

She claims that the packets of contraceptives stuck in the Mozambican port of Beira are the most popular among women in Malawi which is a short active methods as opposed to long active ones like the loop or the condom which most women especially married women don’t like to use.

Madonna dans une école primaire du Malawi, le 2 avril 2013.
Madonna dans une école primaire du Malawi, le 2 avril 2013. Reuters

Looming baby boom

What the disruptions in supplies means to these women, she says, is that they will not have access to their preferred method of contraception which could lead Malawi to a baby boom at a moment the country of 119,000 square kms is struggling to control the growth of its population.

The population of the small land-locked nation of 19.5 inhabitants leaped by one million over the last year, according to Malawi’s National Statistical Office.

Up to 59 percent of married women use family planning methods with 58 percent of them using modern methods and one percent traditional methods.

The Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Health Dan Namarika is quoted by press as saying that they are exploring internal arrangements to redistribute stocks that are available in some facilities.

Meanwhile, the Nation’s Edith Kambalame expects 85 percent of Malawi’s population living in rural areas where family planning is limited and where the rate of unwanted pregnancies is very high to be the affected by the penury. “People in the towns can go to the pharmacies where they can access the products”, she argued.

Unwanted pregnancies

She also claims that while nobody knows when the supplies stuck in Beira will reach Malawi, the period in-between is crucial and could lead to irreversible consequences such as all the country’s women getting “unplanned pregnancies”.

Kabalame also warns about the looming danger of more out-clinic abortions in a country where the practice is illegal, aggravating Malawi’s maternal mortality rate estimated at 634 deaths/100,000 live births, according to an IndexMundi study carried out in 2015..

Children for fat dowries

“Most people prefer these “injectables”, some because they can do it without the knowledge of the husbands, especially those in patriarchal societies where men pay a dowry to marry a woman.

She explained: “Some people charged to give ten cows just turn around and say: “oh!, because I gave ten cows to have you as my wife,  you should also give me ten children”. 

According to Kambalame, contraception has become popular among Malawi’s women either because “some are not ready to have so many children, because it may be too taxing for their bodies, or because they want to engage in some economic activities”.


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