The priorities in Norway's partnership with Malawi are health, education, climate and agriculture, along with support for improved governance. Results achieved include more girls in school, improved maternal health and the best statistics office in southern Africa.

Facts about Malawi

The flag for Malawi
Life expectancy
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GNI pr capita
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Percentage poor people (below 1.25$)
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The flag for Malawi

Bilateral assistance million kroner

Bilateral assistance million kroner

Bilateral assistance million kroner

Malawi is the poorest of Norway's partners in southern Africa. Its population growth is one of the highest in the world, with each woman bearing 5.7 children on average. The population is expected to increase from about 16 million in 2014 to 40 million in 2040.

Following the elections in 2014, President Mutharika's government has initiated a number of reform processes, some of them in the public sector. The country has economic growth of about six percent. The Kwatcha has appreciated and inflation has been reduced. The country is ranked 174th of 187 on the UN Human Development Index (HDI).

The Cashgate corruption scandal became known in 2013 and led to Norway and other bilateral partners freezing their budget support. Norway has not resumed direct support to the state budget.

Monitoring of and the struggle against corruption are among the Malawian government's primary concerns. Over 70 people have been charged, and five have been convicted. The struggle against corruption and follow-up of Cashgate are among the most highly publicized cases in the private media.

Malawi has major human rights challenges associated with poverty, ignorance and inherited attitudes. Violence against albinos, discrimination of and violence against homosexuals, conditions in prisons and an ineffectual legal system are other major challenges.

The Marriage Act was adopted in Parliament in early 2015. It strengthens women's rights, amongst other things by establishing a minimum age of 18 for marrying. This is intended to prevent child marriage and keep girls at school for longer.

Strengthened rights

The Government has endorsed the UN gender equality campaign, which focuses in particular on gender-based violence against women. At the same time, rights associated with freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and freedom of expression are well established. Malawi scores high on Afrobarometer's measurements of how safe citizens feel about believing and saying what they will.

Malawi's social and economic development over the past 15 years is documented in the 2014 Millennium Development Goal Report for Malawi. The poverty head count ratio of people living for less than USD 1.0 per day has moved down from 53.9 to 50.7 per cent. This is very far from the target figure of 27 per cent. The very poorest accounted for a lower proportion of total value added than in 2000.

Norwegian development cooperation with Malawi

Health and education are important sectors for Norwegian aid to Malawi. The figures provide a mixed picture of these areas too.


Malaria, diarrhoea and airway infections remain the most important causes of disease, and premature deaths present the greatest challenge for the coming years. The health service struggles with inadequate basic equipment, medicines and personnel.

Reduced maternal and child mortality

A reduction in child mortality is the millennium goal that Malawi is most likely to achieve. The figures show a halving of neonatal mortality since 2000 and the under-five mortality rate has been substantially reduced (from 189 to 85 per thousand). The proportion of undernourished children has fallen from 25.4 to 16.7 per cent.

Maternal mortality has been almost halved in the same period, but remains high (574 per hundred thousand births) despite the large proportion of women who now give birth in institutions (94.7 per cent). The main causes of maternal mortality are haemorrhaging in connection with giving birth, infection, and complications during delivery.

Health service quality remains a major challenge in Malawi. A pilot programme in partnership with Germany using result-based financing to raise the quality of maternal and child health services is showing a positive tendency so far.

The programme started at the end of 2012 and improved quality is reported. For example:

  • analysis of deaths among pregnant women and women giving birth has increased from 0 per cent to 100 per cent
  • use of a partogram during labour has increased from 48 to 84 per cent
  • direct observation of the uterus one hour after birth has increased from 52 to 80 per cent
  • direct observation of signs of haemorrhaging after birth has increased from 55 to 73 per cent
  • women who go home later/after 48 hours has increased from 72 to 87 percent.

Despite major challenges and a weak health system, Malawi has recorded positive developments in some areas. The prevalence of HIV in Malawi has remained stable at 10-11 per cent in recent years, and is considerably higher among vulnerable groups such as men who have sex with men, sex-workers and their customers. There has been an overall decline of 70 per cent in the incidence of new cases of infection since 2005, and a 52 per cent fall in AIDS-related deaths. One million people are currently registered as having HIV. Half of them are receiving treatment.

Malaria is still rife and accounts for 22 per cent of deaths. The trend is positive, nonetheless, with a registered national reduction in malaria cases of 39 per cent since 2011. Just under a million impregnated mosquito nets were distributed through health centres as preventive intervention.

Successful treatment of tuberculosis is in excess of WHO's global target. In 2014, Malawi recorded an 11.3 per cent decline in new cases compared with 2013. A total of 18.000 cases of tuberculosis were confirmed, of which eleven per cent had received treatment previously.

A mid-term review of the 2014 health sector programme indicates that the vaccination programme is having a positive effect. UNICEF reports a worrying decline in the coverage of measles vaccine, from 91 per cent to 88 per cent. The Norwegian support for procurement of vaccines and materials via UNICEF has helped to maintain the vaccination programme in all the country's districts throughout the year.

Diarrhoea, malaria and airway infections remain the chief causes of death of children under the age of five. The authorities have prepared a national strategy for diseases due to unsafe water and poor sanitation, including health information and preventive measures. No cases of cholera were recorded in 2014.

Health personnel

In 2014, Malawi continued the work of improving the health personnel situation. The training of health personnel is proceeding slowly, nonetheless, and there are still daunting challenges and unmet needs. Training and appointing an adequate number of health workers is demanding. There is currently no-one undergoing specialist training in psychiatry or eye diseases.

The challenges have been dropout from the sector, inadequate recruitment and deployment and that the wage budget is not dimensioned for the staffing plan. Vacancies for all types of health personnel total 36 per cent, and for doctors 70 per cent.

Aid to the health sector

The USA, Germany, the UK and Norway are the most important donors of aid for health programmes in Malawi. In the wake of Cashgate, when support to the health sector programme was withheld, aid for health was restructured. Norway contributed to an extension of the health sector programme on adjusted conditions.

The funding is on the government budget, but is channelled directly to regional health institutions throughout the country, and has a special monitoring mechanism. The funding maintained and assured the access of the general population to basic services through operating funding for health stations and hospitals during a period when overall donor support was reduced. The aid was earmarked for food, water, electricity, overtime payment to secure better health personnel coverage, and fuel for ambulances.

As a result of the intervention, the problem of the shortage of funds to pay for water, electricity and food for patients was reduced. The funds also made it possible for the authorities to pay for agreements with church-run hospitals in remote areas where there were no government services.

Medical training

Norway supported training of doctors at the College of Medicine. In 2014, a total of 165 students (88 men and 77 women) were admitted to the university, and the same number graduated. In addition, three doctoral students are associated with data collection and analysis of result-based financing of the maternal and child health programme that Norway also supports.

Over a period of ten years, there has been an increase in university staff with higher education at doctoral level. This has reduced the need for external lecturers.

Some 260 birthing assistants for the districts started their training, and a further 90 have been recruited locally for training as birthing assistants locally through the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), which the Norwegian Embassy finances. The training programme is conducted jointly with the authorities.  

A Norwegian-Malawian collaboration sponsored by Norwegian Church Aid for training nurses and midwives included a total of 15 nursing colleges in Malawi and four in Norway. Altogether 542 students were accepted and 461 completed the training. This represents a decline in the proportion completing the training, from 96 per cent to 85 per cent.

The organization Banja La Mtsogolo (BLM) is the biggest actor in Malawi working with sexual and reproductive health. Norway and the UK support BLM's activities in 27 districts. In 2014, just under 970 000 people were reached, 258 000 of them under the age of 25. The majority were from remote areas that were difficult to reach.

Norway also supports the health sector through multilateral and international organizations and through civil society players. The main areas receiving priority are operating support for district hospitals and clinics, health infrastructure, capacity-building and training of health personnel as well as interventions for mother and child health.


Since the turn of the millennium, the proportion of children beginning their basic schooling has increased from 78 to 85 per cent, and the number with reading and writing skills has increased from 68 to 75 per cent. At the same time, research reveals that a large share of those who complete basic schooling are functional illiterates. A great deal has been invested in teacher education, but it fails to keep pace with increased enrolment and population growth. In primary and lower secondary school it is usual for classes to have one teacher for up to 150 pupils.

Malawi's educational results are moderate, and in some areas negative, and the country will not attain the millennium development goals of basic schooling for all and gender equality at all levels of education.

Young population

Because of the high population growth, Malawi has a young population, about half of them under 19 years old. There has been a very large increase in the number of pupils in primary and lower secondary school over the last decade. In 1993/1994 there were around 1.8 million pupils.  In 2013/2014 the number had increased to 4.7 million. 

The school system has failed to keep pace with the escalating population, and is characterized by poor buildings, a shortage of teaching material and textbooks and large classes with few teachers. Malawi has made progress in training teachers, and the number of teacher education colleges has increased from six to eight, but the funding available places constraints on the possibility of employing new, qualified teachers.

Education of inadequate quality is a major problem. Every fourth pupil repeats a class or classes, and only 28 per cent of the girls and 35 of the boys get as far as completing the eighth grade.

Three-year agreement with the UN

Education became a new sector in Norway's development cooperation with Malawi in 2014. During Prime Minister Erna Solberg's visit to Malawi in July 2014, a three-year agreement for NOK 112 million was signed with the UN. The project is a joint UN project (WFC, UNICF and UNFPA) which funds education for girls in three districts.

The project gives priority to school meals, health services, measures against gender-based violence, instruction in sexuality and rights and supplementary teacher training. In 2014, training programmes started in all project districts. The building of canteens started at 35 schools, and distribution of school food started at the majority of schools. It is too early to be able to register results from the new project.

Use tablets

At the end of 2014, the Norwegian Embassy signed an agreement with Volunteer Services Overseas for an innovative programme to enhance teaching quality: "Unlocking talent through technology", in which tablets are used in teaching the lower grades.

Support for educating girls is a central part of Norway's support for education in Malawi. Many girls drop out of school when they reach puberty. The causes are complex, and include poverty, attitudes, domestic duties, violence, lack of separate toilets, early marriage or pregnancy.

Malawi has a high level of teenage pregnancy and a high proportion of adolescents who drop out of school. Save the Children Norway's programme in Malawi is a three-year project aimed at reducing teenage pregnancy so that girls complete their schooling. Norad contributes NOK 30 million to the programme. The three subsidiary goals of the project are:

  • reduce the number of girls who do not complete their schooling
  • increase the number of girls who start school again after pregnancy and childbirth
  • increase the availability of sexual and reproductive health services for girls

The project is being implemented in the regions of Ntcheu, Machinga, Mangochi, Phalombe, Mchinji and Balaka. The project is closely linked to other projects in the country aimed at boosting education for girls, including research on the most effective means of getting girls to complete their schooling.


Governance is another important sector in which Norway is engaged in Malawi. Since the introduction of the multi-party system in 1994, democratic development has moved forward on the whole. There was almost complete consensus, both national and international, that the election result in May 2014 was a true expression of the will of the people.

Norway supports the authorities' action plan in the wake of Cashgate through the World Bank's fund, and has contributed to strengthening the Malawian Office of the Auditor General, among other things.

Norway has entered into an agreement with the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) to fortify the work of combating corruption. The agreement includes preventive work, both in state institutions and through civil society. Technical support and measures to advance the expertise of the police and the ACB designed to strengthen investigatory capacity have led to progress in the investigation of corruption.

Best statistics office

The collaboration between Statistics Norway and the Malawian National Statistics Office (NSO) has augmented the authorities' ability to produce their own statistics. The statistics play a central part in government planning. This is very evident in the field of economics, where the contributions have led to a sustainable economic statistics system, including annual national accounts figures.

In the field of social services, too, Norwegian support has contributed to systematic and regular production of statistics which are linked to political planning processes. The ability to produce its own statistics has also formed the basis for Malawi's good Millennium Development Goals reporting. In 2014, the NSO was ranked number one in southern Africa on the World Bank Statistical Capacity Indicator. There are still areas where the statistics can be improved, nonetheless, particularly the regularity of data publication and the quality of the actual data.

The Norwegian-supported SADC Parliamentary Forum's election observers concluded that the three-party elections in May 2014 yielded a true result. Malawi's electoral commission failed to supply all polling stations with material in time, and the election had to be extended in some places.

The authorities are behind in their human rights reporting to the UN, but caught up some lost ground in 2014. Malawi submitted a report on the Covenant on Political and Economic Rights in July and a periodic report to the Women's Commission in September. Work on the report on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has commenced with support from Norway and UNICEF, and is to be submitted in 2015.

Improved prison conditions

Many population groups know little about their rights, and Norwegian support for human rights organizations and services for vulnerable groups has continued. As a result of the efforts of the organizations Centre for Legal Assistance, Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance and I live Here, a further 511 remand prisoners had their cases tried before the court in 2014. Food and living conditions in prisons have improved. The prisons are overcrowded, and there is a long way to go before conditions are in conformity with human rights standards.

The government has submitted a Trafficking in Persons Bill to Parliament, and child labour features in the media with growing frequency. Norwegian Church Aid has received support from the Norwegian Embassy for a drive to combat child labour and promote children's rights.

Through UNDP, the democracy programme ran a campaign against child labour and 2 467 children, of whom 1 104 girls, were able to return to school after having been sent to work. Independent advisory services for victims of breaches of human rights registered 2 249 cases. Of these, 1 292 cases were resolved and 637 were referred to the correct responsible services. Some 2 500 local human rights committees and radio clubs in 19 districts have continued to hold active dialogues with the authorities responsible for maintaining public service rights that affect people's everyday life. They work both by increasing people's knowledge of the rights they have and by bringing about an improvement in services.

Women and gender equality

Gender-based violence is very common in Malawi, and children and young girls are particularly vulnerable. According to a report from UNICEF, UK Aid and the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one girl in five is subjected to sexual assault before the age of 18. Norway has supported the Malawi Human Rights Resource Centre in strengthening local police and services to combat gender-based violence. The total number of cases reported to the police in 2014 was 110, 71 cases fewer than the previous year. There is good reason to believe that the majority of cases are not reported.

The situation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons (LHBTI) has improved as a result of support through the UN and local human rights organizations. The authorities have adopted a new HIV/AIDS strategy involving targeted services, particularly for men who have sex with men.

Malawi still has a law against sodomy which prohibits sex between persons of the same gender. Malawi confirmed to the UN Human Rights Committee in November that this law has not been enforced in recent years. The subject receives considerable attention in the public debate, and local organizations have obtained Norwegian support to increase their visibility in the media. Religious leaders have also offered public support to the LHBTI case. The new Marriage Bill that has been submitted does not allow for same-sex marriage, however.

Norway supported a "50-50" campaign which aimed to increase the share of women in elected positions to 50 per cent. The campaign target was not attained. More woman candidates than previously stood for the parliamentary election, but the proportion of women in Parliament fell from 22 per cent to 14 per cent after the election. On the district councils, women accounted for 16 per cent of representatives.

Many young girls are married off and have children at an early age in Malawi. Half of all women are married before they turn 18. A "One UN" project in two pilot districts has led to a three per cent decrease in the number of girls who drop out of school early, and enabled 77 per cent of young mothers to go back to school. Ninety per cent of the young girls in the project stated that they had received information about sexual and reproductive health and rights, and have availed themselves more of these services .

Witchcraft-based violence is often reported in the Malawian media. Norway supports the Association for Secular Humanism, which contributed to 104 newspaper articles and radio reports, and to 19 victims of persecution receiving help. 2 200 people received targeted information about witchcraft-based violence.

Climate, agriculture, environmental and natural resource management

Malawi will succeed in halving the number of undernourished children under five years old in the course of 2015. But the picture is mixed. 42.1 per cent have suffered long-term harm as a result of undernourishment and malnourishment.

Agricultural developments were largely positive in 2014. Shortly after the results of the election were known, the authorities signalled a desire for reform of the government agricultural subsidy programme. Among other things, the Ministry of Agriculture wants transparency surrounding procurement processes.

Norway is the main donor to the agricultural sector programme. The programme has contributed to greater coordination within the agricultural sector, and to especially good results with regard to the rate of development of policy documents in central areas. The support is channelled through a multi-donor fund managed by the World Bank. Priority is being given to integrating gender equality into the programme, but this is very challenging.

Through a Malawian civil society organisation, Norway has also financed a pilot project designed to make the authorities' subsidy programme more efficient and support the private sector.

Collaboration with Ireland on food

In 2014, Norway and Irish Aid decided to dedicate their humanitarian contribution to reducing food insecurity during the dry season through a group of NGOs headed by Save the Children Malawi.

The core activity of the programme is cash disbursements to vulnerable households. Almost 60 000 people have received at least one electronic transfer of money by mobile telephone, and almost nine of ten could then afford to eat two or more meals every day.

Norwegian support for climate, agriculture, environment and natural resource management generally focuses in particular on climate-smart agriculture, gender equality and the private sector. The Enhanced Community Resilience Programme, which is supported by British DFID, Irish Aid and Norway jointly, can document both higher income and reduced food insecurity for the participants.


With Norwegian support, 51 200 farmers engaged in various kinds of climate-smart agriculture, and more than 450 new lead farmers received instruction in these methods. Each lead farmer trains from 20 to 80 farmers in adjacent areas. All partners have a goal that the majority of the participants should be women. 

A growing number of farmers are taking in part in different forms of activity to increase the value of their yields. More than 600 received various kinds of training in 2014, and almost 80 business plans were developed.

A number of cooperatives reported that they were able to obtain twice the price for their products because they had strengthened their negotiating position. With the increased revenue they were able to invest in school fees for their children and more substantial houses that were better able to withstand strong winds and heavy rain. To boost Malawi's efforts in the face of climate-change threats, 5.75 million trees have been planted.

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Multilateral organisations

In 2014, the UN and the World Bank channelled 17.3 per cent of funding from the Norwegian Embassy. NOK 47.5 million went to UN projects. Support through the World Bank amounted to NOK 29.5 million. The largest projects are described under education and climate, agriculture, environmental and natural resources management.

Norway makes substantial contributions to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM) and to UNAIDS, which together provide 90 per cent of the funding for the battle against HIV and AIDS in Malawi.


NORAD funds a number of Norwegian NGOs that have Malawian partners. In 2015 this funding amounted to approximately NOK 50 million. The chief actors supported by Norad in Malawi are the Atlas Alliance, the Development Fund, SOS Children's Villages, Norwegian Church Aid and Save the Children. The support covers a broad range of activities, from human rights work and influencing legislation, to climate-smart agriculture, strengthening and protecting vulnerable local communities and families.

In 2013, the Development Fund reached over 18 000 farmers who increased their yields enough to provide their families with sufficient food through the critical period until the next harvest.

Published 28.08.2014
Last updated 02.10.2015