MPs’ study tour to Banja La Mtsogolo (BLM) in Malawi with Marie Stopes International (MSI) Reproductive Health Services


From the 10th - 19th May 2003, four Member's of Parliament Martyn Jones, Jenny Tonge, Candy Atherton and Sandra Osborne travelled to Malawi to examine the reproductive health service programmes provided by MSI.

Below are details of the study tour, comments made by the MPs regarding their visit and some selected photos.

Background information

MPs visited

A debriefing was organised at the end of the study tour, which included representation from the British High Commission, the MoH, the Parliamentary Committee on Health, BLM board members and staff.

The 4 UK MPs - Candy Atherton MP, Sandra Osborne, Martyn Jones MP and Dr Jenny Tonge MP commenting on the study tour said:

Candy Atherton MP said:

"BLM does quite exceptional work in Malawi and deserves every support. I hope they expand, reach further into rural areas and go from strength to strength."

Sandra Osborne MP said:

" I was very impressed by the quality and consistency of the service provided by BLM in the face of pressing and overwhelming need. The educational and consciousness raising methods on family planning were clearly reaping dividends as well as providing some entertaining drama for local communities. However the HIV/AIDS situation we witnessed at Blantyre District Hospital was extremely distressing - many more resources are obviously urgently needed as well as an assessment of whether or not existing funds are being deployed in the most effective way, while retaining the dignity of those who are dying.

It was a privilege to see at close quarters the positive impact that can be made on sexual and reproductive health and women's rights when the funding is made available to make it happen."

Martyn Jones MP said:

"It was my first visit to sub-Saharan Africa and it confirmed all the horror stories of the problems that those countries are experiencing.

Malawi has the advantage of a good infrastructure and a relative stable government, however the country is desperately poor and the government has only recently taken serious steps to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

We were welcomed everywhere we went by friendly people.

BLM with support from Marie Stopes International, is doing wonderful work and are extending their reproductive health services, which is necessary to provide cover to the rural areas.

Lastly I will never forget the scenes in the female medical ward in Blantyre General Hospital, where they had only cared for two HIV negative patients in two years!"

Dr Jenny Tonge MP said:

"The Aids pandemic is affecting Malawi like any other African country and, because the country is so poor, they have few resources to deal with it. NGOs, like BLM, are doing a great job on educating and providing facilities for reproductive health but many people cannot reach the clinics or cannot afford the [very low] charges for condoms and pills.

I was very concerned that the hospitals are being totally swamped by AIDS patients. There is hardly any treatment available for them and wards built for 40 patients often contain up to 200 patients with 3 or 4 nurses trying to cope.

This not only blocks hospital beds for other patients who are to be treated but means that health professionals are demoralised and are leaving Malawi in droves - the health services in Malawi have a 40% vacancy rate.

There needs to be a new approach to provide community support [a district nursing service?] for AIDS patients and their families so that the hospitals can stop being hospices for the dying and start being proper hospitals again."

Photos of the Malawi Study Tour

MPs visit to Malawi Parliament.

MPs visit to BLMs Reproductive Health medicine, equipment and supply store. The store was spacious and clean. From left to right - Candy Atherton MP, Sandra Osborne MP, Martyn Jones MP and Jenny Tonge MP.

MPs displaying BLMs condoms due for distribution. BLM Family Planning supply include condoms, oral contraceptive pills, injectables, Norplant, IUCDs, foam tablets. BLM/MSI clinics also offer permanent family planning methods such as tubal ligation and vasectomies.

MPs and BLM's Health Advisor outside BLM clinic in Mulanje. All BLM/MSI clinics visited were identically blue and white painted buildings. Standard guidelines and treatment was provided at all clinics. Staff, clinics, surroundings and rooms were very welcoming and clean. Sterilisation rooms and pit latrine were found at all clinics.

MPs inspecting clinic register to determine number of visit per day. Most clinics saw between 40 - 60 clients per day. Female sterilisations were performed under local anaesthetic. Husbands would often pick up their wives a couple of hours after the procedure and bring them home on their bicycles. Women were advised not to do any strenuous work in the first couple of weeks after the procedure. MPs spoke to women soon after their surgery.

Malawians observing HIV/AIDs and Family Planning community information in Ngabu.

Malawians in Ngabu.

MPs chatting to locals on the mountain.

MPs speaking to locals at roadside in Mulanje.

MPs speaking to locals at roadside in Mulanje.

All Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health Advisor at a tea plantation. Visits were made to private tea and sugar cane medical facilities in order to compare with BLM/MSI services. A wide range of services was offered. Medical staff would refer men and women to BLM/MSI clinics for permanent family planning methods.

Tea plantation workers in Mulanje. A mixture of men and women worked at the tea plantations. Workers earned an average of $1 per day. Free lodging, schooling and medical care was provided.

Farmer and his wife at a tea plantation Mulanja.

Children playing at Malawi Lake.

BLM has an HIV/AIDS information and education programme in Zomba Prison. Condoms are distributed to prisoners upon departure. Parliament and Prison authorities are currently debating the issue of distributing condoms in Prisons.

Visit to the largest Malawi National Prison in Zomba. Prison Director welcomed the MPs and gave a brief overview of BLM/MSI support to the prison. MPs were encouraged to ask questions and were invited to visit any area. A request for the visit had only been made the previous day.

Zomba Prison disabled footwear workshop. Prisoners soon to be released at work in the workshop.

Female ward in Zomba Prison. Zomba Prison was overcrowded according to prison staff. There were however few female prisoners, female wards hence were airy with a grocery garden and separate toilet facilities. One lady informed MPs that she was given life imprisonment for murdering her husband.

MPs speaking with female prisoners.

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