Using mobile clinics to deliver HIV testing and other basic health services in rural Malawi

Rural Remote Health. 2011;11(2):1682. Epub 2011 Jun 28.


Context: The majority of Malawians are impoverished and primarily dependant on subsistence farming, with 85% of the population living in a rural area. The country is highly affected by HIV and under-resourced rural health centers struggle to meet the government's goal of expanding HIV testing, antiretroviral treatment, and other basic services.

Issue: This report describes the work of two four-wheel drive mobile clinics launched in 2008 to fill an identified service gap in the remote areas of Mulanje District, Malawi. The program was developed by an international non-governmental organization, Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance (GAIA), and the Mulanje District Health Office, with funding from the Elizabeth Taylor HIV/AIDS Foundation. The clinics provide: (1) rapid HIV testing and treatment referral; (2) diagnosis and treatment of malaria; (3) sputum collection for TB screening; (4) diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted and opportunistic infections; and (5) pre-natal care. The clinic vehicles provide medical supplies and personnel (a clinical officer, nurse, and nurse aide) to set up clinics in community buildings such as churches or schools.

Lessons learned: In such a project,<strong> </strong>the implementation process and schedule can be affected by medication, supply chain and infrastructural issues, as well as governmental and non-governmental requirements. Timelines should be sufficiently flexible to accommodate unexpected delays. Once established, service scheduling should be flexible and responsive; for instance, malaria treatment rather than HIV testing was most urgently needed in the season when these services were launched. Assessing the impact of healthcare delivery in Malawi is challenging. Although mobile clinic and the government Health Management Information System (HMIS) data were matched, inconsistent variables and gaps in data made direct comparisons difficult. Data collection was compromised by the competing demand of high patient volume; however, rather than reducing the burden on existing health centers, the data suggest<strong> </strong>that the mobile clinics provided services for people who otherwise may not have attended a health center. The GAIA mobile clinics were integrated into a catchment area through a community participation model, allowing point-of-care primary health services to be provided to thousands of people in remote rural villagers. Strong relationships have been forged with local community leaders and with Malawi Ministry of Health officers as the foundation for long-term sustainable engagement and eventual integration of services into Health Ministry programs.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Data Collection
  • Delivery of Health Care / organization & administration*
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / diagnosis*
  • HIV*
  • Health Education
  • Humans
  • Malawi
  • Male
  • Mobile Health Units / organization & administration*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Care
  • Rural Health Services / organization & administration*
  • Rural Population