£3m project to improve adolescent health and wellbeing in Malawi

Dr Tracy Morse - Malawi

The University of Strathclyde has been awarded £3 million from the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) to lead a project to improve adolescent health and wellbeing in Malawi.

The Global Health Research Group funding award brings together experts from Strathclyde, Kamuzu University of Health Sciences and the Malawi University of Business and Applied Sciences.

The team will work with adolescents, family and community members, health workers, policy makers, and other organisations to design, implement and evaluate approaches to improving adolescent health and wellbeing.

The United Nations estimates there are more 10-24 year olds alive today than at any other time in human history, the majority of which live in low and middle income countries such as Malawi.

Within these settings, adolescence is affected by several health and wellbeing burdens that are worsened by poverty. However, adolescents are often the most neglected group in health care service provision, particularly those in early adolescence (10–14 years), a time considered critical in shaping their future lives.

Limited progress

In Malawi, despite efforts to prohibit child marriage, and expand youth-friendly health services, there has been limited progress towards meeting the needs of adolescents.

For example, rates for completion of primary school remain low (44% male; 37% female), and pregnancy rates for adolescents remains high. These factors have worsened because of the COVID-19 pandemic which has affected both schooling and health access. 

The four-year project led by Strathclyde’s Dr Tracy Morse, Head of the Centre for Sustainable Development in Strathclyde's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Dr Effie Chipeta, of Kamuzu University of Health Sciences, will bring together cross-disciplinary expertise in environmental health, education, social care and social policy, health economics, sexual and reproductive health and rights, health systems and health policy.

Dr Morse said: “We will work hand in hand with adolescents from rural Mchinji and urban Blantyre to understand their lived experience, and the challenges they face in their day to day lives.

“We will then work with adolescents, parents and guardians and other interested parties to develop promising approaches to improve their health and wellbeing. These interventions will focus on three areas: gender, sexual and reproductive health rights; aspirations and wellbeing, including mental health; and water, sanitation and hygiene.

Work in these areas will be supported by research on the policy and  economic environment in which adolescent health and wellbeing sits.

Immediate benefits

Dr Chipeta said: “We hope that our approach will bring immediate benefits to adolescents, as well as benefits throughout their future adult lives and for the next generation of children.

“We aim to identify new approaches that will ensure more effective peer, parental and multisectoral support to enable young people to maximise their life chances.”

The programme will also build capacity across a range of disciplines in Malawi at both Masters and PhD level to lead and support these programmes in the future.