One hundred and thirty minutes. That’s just over two hours. It’s a long time to wait to see a doctor no matter where you are in the world. Then after waiting for two hours, patients talk to a healthcare provider for less than 2 minutes – 140 seconds – before they are back out the door. These are the average times spent waiting for and with healthcare providers in a rural health center in Malawi, where a recent study examined the flow of patients to help uncover opportunities for improvement.
Malawi, like many low-income countries, faces a severe shortage of health workers. In a country of more than 16 million people, there are only 302 doctors – that’s more than 50,000 people for every one doctor. Because of these shortages, most health centers in Malawi rely on lower-level health workers to provide services. These workers share responsibilities far beyond patient care, so it important to find new, low-resource ways to support them in providing the highest quality service possible.
For example, this study highlighted the challenge of managing medicines and maintaining medicine availability in understaffed health centers. Not only did patients spend more than two hours waiting at the health center, they had a 1 in 4 chance of not receiving the medicines prescribed to them. This challenge is familiar to VillageReach: through the Pharmacy Assistant Training Program, VillageReach is working to address the need for trained pharmacy workers to support health centers in the most rural communities. These pharmacy assistants help to both improve medicines management as well as increase the amount of time health workers have for providing care. More than 130 pharmacy assistants have graduated with a certificate in pharmacy and now work in health centers across Malawi – reducing the burden on health workers and contributing to the improvement of quality healthcare at the last mile.
This study adds to our understanding of the bottlenecks affecting efficiency and quality of care of health centers in Malawi. It serves as another example of how VillageReach is dedicated to finding new data that can give us insight to the challenges faced in the most underserved communities. Using data from such studies can bring us closer to our goal: improving access to quality healthcare at the last mile.