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New UK Government health scheme to save lives in Malawi

Thousands of vulnerable mothers and babies across Malawi are to receive better health care thanks to a new scheme managed by Tropical Health & Education Trust (THET) and funded by the Department for International Development to send volunteer midwives and nurses to volunteer in the developing country through VSO.

VSO has teamed up with the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Midwives and the Malawian Initiative for National Development (MIND) to support health workers in Malawi as part of the Government’s Health Partnership scheme, launched by the Secretary of State, Andrew Mitchell, recently, Tuesday 8 May.

Over the next three years experienced nurses and midwives from the UK will volunteer in Malawi and pass on their skills to health workers in the country, helping to save the lives of thousands of people.

Malawi needs improved nurse training and management of health services to tackle its high maternal mortality rate of 510 deaths per 100,000 births. (1) Each year mothers and children are dying of preventable conditions because they are not getting the right care in under-staffed and ill-equipped hospitals. 

Jon Rosser, Interim Director of VSO UK, said:

“VSO is delighted to be working with THET and the Royal Colleges as part of the Health Partnership Programme, and we are grateful for this funding which will help us tackle urgent challenges in the health care system in Malawi.

“Too many women and children who live in developing countries are dying from preventable conditions or complications which could have been prevented. People who volunteer on the Health Partnership Programme will save the lives of countless mums and babies and leave a lasting legacy in Malawi.

 “In addition to contributing to the improvement of health care in Malawi, we are working closely with the royal colleges to ensure that while volunteering, health professionals also develop their career skills and therefore use the experience to continue to improve health care in the UK.”

Speaking at the Royal College of Midwives to mark International Day of the Midwife, International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said:

“British nurses, midwives and medical teams are among the best in the world. The Health Partnership Scheme allows us to harness their expertise to help give developing countries the skills needed to improve the health of some of the world’s poorest people.”

"It is an international scandal that one thousand women die every day in pregnancy or childbirth and tackling the tragic scale of maternal and child deaths is a key priority for the British Government.”

Jane Cockerell, Chief Executive at THET said:

“We are delighted by the quality and range of these Health Partnership Scheme grants and look forward to supporting the UK and developing country partners in their delivery of effective, sustainable health workforce training and development projects”

Dr Peter Carter, Chief Executive & General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing said:

“Volunteering in countries like Malawi allows UK-based nurses and midwives to enrich the health system there, and here when they return. Volunteers offer their clinical skills which are desperately needed, and they can leave a legacy of improvement in the local skill level and the way healthcare is organised.

“Nurse volunteers have enriching experiences, and return with new skills, knowledge and ability to develop others. So it’s crucial that nurses are supported to volunteer, without feeling their career will suffer.  The RCN is delighted to extend its commitment to this through this scheme.”

Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives, said:

“This is a wonderful project to be announcing. I am delighted that the RCM has received this funding to strengthen our sister associations and  give the opportunity to many UK midwives who want to give something back to midwifery.

“However, it is not a one-way street because we in the UK will also have a lot to learn from our colleagues overseas, who often have to deliver care in very difficult circumstances. This project is about learning and sharing experiences and practice to make a difference there and here and bring back a different perspective to midwifery in the UK.”

Charles Chingwalu, MIND Programme Manager, said:

"Volunteering is a key developmental model to achieveing an improvement in maternal and child health and building north-south global partnerships that generate and share significant skills and learning."

Editor's notes

The Health Partnership Scheme

The HPS is a four-year programme to support the development of health services in some of the world’s poorest countries. The scheme will harness UK health institutions and professionals to improve health outcomes and strengthen health systems through the sharing of skills and other collaborative projects.

The Health Partnership Scheme is funded by the Department for International Development (DFID) (£20m from the existing aid budget over four years). It is managed by The Tropical Health and Education Trust (THET) who has formed a consortium with the health consultancy HLSP to deliver the programme.

For more information, visit DFID

About VSO

VSO is different from most organisations that fight poverty. Instead of sending money or food, we bring people together to share skills and knowledge. In doing so, we create lasting change. Experienced VSO volunteers work to address the forces that keep people in poverty – from education and health through helping people learn the skills they need to make a living. In doing so they invest in local people, so the impact they have endures long after their placement ends.
For more information contact Media Officer Susannah Taw, 020 8780 7621, or 07500 918 478 or visit

About THET

Tropical Health & Education Trust is an international development organisation with over 20 years of experience in strengthening health services in low-income countries through partnerships.  These health partnerships improve the skills of health workers and build long-term capacity in developing countries. It is a London-based organisation that also has country offices in Zambia and Somaliland. THET is a UK-registered charity.

About RCN

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is the voice of nursing across the UK and is the largest professional union of nursing staff in the world. The RCN promotes the interest of nursing staff and patients on a wide range of issues and helps shape healthcare policy by working closely with the UK Government and other national and international institutions, trade unions, professional bodies and voluntary organisations.

About RCM

The Royal College of Midwives is the voice of midwifery. We are the UK’s only trade union and professional organisation led by midwives for midwives. The vast majority of the midwifery profession are our members. The RCM promotes midwifery, quality maternity services and professional standards. We support and represent our members individually and collectively in all four UK countries.  We influence on behalf of our members and for the interests of the women and families for which they care.  For more information visit the RCM.

About MIND

MIND engages experienced individuals from the diaspora to volunteer their skills in the health and social sectors of Malawi. Over the last four years we have successfully delivered and managed a series of international volunteering placements in six health institutions of Malawi. As a result of our programmes, local health staff experienced a significant reduction in their work load and an increased number of mothers and children received good quality care and more promptly. Our volunteers delivered personal development and capacity building training to local health workers who gained improved and additional skills.

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