Investing in human potential: A case for Malawi

I would like to first congratulate President Joyce Banda for making her maiden speech at the 67th United Nations General assembly whose theme is “Bringing about adjustments and settlements of international disputes or situations by peaceful means.” It was an eloquent speech in which she has articulated well the socio-economic challenges which are faced in developing countries in particular Malawi.

These challenges can act as aetiologies for conflict “The Biggest threats to security and peace are poverty, lack of opportunity and lack of hope” she said. Taking such into consideration and acknowledging the dire need to cure the economic malady Malawi has contracted, she said Malawi under her leadership is resolute to see to it that, having been on the road to achieving five of the eight Millennium Development Goals by 2015, the remaining three which are universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, improving maternal health are tackled with an equal measure of seriousness.

Five priority areas were therefore set within the medium term national framework, the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy II. These areas are: Energy, Tourism, Agriculture, Mining and Infrastructural Development.

Ex child labourers taken back to school posing for a photo with President Joyce Banda 

I notice with concern when I look at these priority areas that while they have been set to enhance sustainable economic development, important areas have been left out which are vital to social development and these are Health and Education.

It is quite evident Malawi has a lot of untapped potential in the mineral resources which are in reserve. While accepting such, we should also allude to the fact that the only tangible potential which we can easily harness to achieve economic independence and sustainable development as it stands now is the human potential.

It therefore only makes sense to devote much of our energies in trying to enhance this potential by investing in people through education and also ensuring that Malawian people are health to indulge in economic activities. Malawi suffers from a high burden of communicable disease, the major ones being H.I.V/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis which hampers the economy greatly through loss of productive citizens.

Apart from these diseases, the World Bank estimates that Malawi looses close to 8.8 Billion kwacha annually because of poor water and sanitation which are predisposes people to contract diarrhoeal disease. On the other hand, education is as equally vital in the sense that, when investments, both local and foreign are made, there is need of a workforce to advance these industries.

These investments should be a platform to create job opportunities for indigenous Malawians but how can they get employment when they lack necessary technical training to work in these industries?

Secondary to this, education is vital to health of individuals, a case in particular is for maternal health an area which the president herself is so passionate about. Current evidence shows that, education is one important social factor in reducing maternal deaths.

Now when you look at the health and education systems in Malawi, honestly they leave a lot to be desired. We have under resourced hospitals, public health programs and school which at the same time are oversubscribed. The work forces in these areas are so de motivated because of poor working environments, low remunerations and benefits, no professional appraisals and so many other obstacles, so many to outline here.

Furthermore when you look at the infrastructures, no classrooms, students learning under a tree, no drugs in hospitals, no doctors, no nurses but yet people demand to get quality services from these institutions. I wonder how quality services can be achieved in these sectors when the government which is the custodian of these public facilities does not pay adequate attention to these sectors.

No miracle is going to take place that one day where let’s say, we have a good laboratory where results don’t take ages to come out or get lost altogether, one does not take a whole day to see a medical profession, let alone only to be told come back the following day or where our education system ranks among the best in the world. There is need for effort to be put into these sectors and it starts at policy level.

The Malawi Growth and Development Strategy II is coming as a replacement or rather a continuation of the previous framework which by far had made considerable gains and it is upon this framework that the five of the eight Millennium Development Goals are going to be achieved. While we are set to ensure we achieve the remaining three, we should not as a nation lax and let loose on the sectors we have done well so far because achieving them is not enough but sustaining them.

I argue therefore that the powers there be should rethink on these priority areas because the repercussion of laxity I am afraid will be so profound as to reverse the gain we have made as a nation over the past eight years.


* Dominic Moyo is a medical doctor trained in Malawi, currently studying Global Health and Development at Taipei  Medical University in Taiwan

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