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  • Malawi: Knowledge to curb the increase in traffic injuries


Malawi: Knowledge to curb the increase in traffic injuries

While the number of traffic injuries and traffic fatalities is declining in rich countries, the number is increasing significantly in poor countries. Malawi has now introduced measures to reduce traffic accidents, based on a project initiated by NIPH.

crashed car

While the number of traffic injuries and traffic fatalities is declining in rich countries, the number is increasing significantly in poor countries. Malawi has now introduced measures to reduce traffic accidents, based on a project initiated by NIPH.

Latest news

The Malawian police has now been given resources to buy breathalyzers, similar to what the Norwegian traffic police uses. They have now started extensive control at times when they have knowledge that there is a lot of alcohol involved in driving, especially in the evenings and nights on weekends. There are very high fines for those who are caught, up to a monthly salary for many Malawians. Some of those who can afford it have now acquired a private driver, which will be cheaper than paying the fine. This can be read in the online newspaper Nation, which is published in the capital Lilongwe.
 - The police knowledge comes from our traffic project, says Asbjørg S. Christophersen, who led the project from NIPH. - This is some of the several recommendations from the final project report.  It's amazing that they have come this far. 

Status of the project

The World Bank has published its final report from the project: Road Traffic Injuries in Malawi: With Special Focus on the Role of Alcohol.

−We hope that the report can contribute to fewer alcohol-related traffic accidents in Malawi by introducing some of our proposed measures from the report. An important change will be to lower the blood alcohol limit to 0.5, and even lower for professional drivers. These measures must be combined with extensive campaigns and information in all types of media, says project leader Asbjørg Christophersen.

Background for the project

"Malawi is among the countries with the most road traffic fatalities in the world. Drunk driving is one of the problems, but to what extent we do not know because of the lack of alcohol testing and investigation," says Asbjørg S. Christophersen, senior researcher and project leader at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. 

The experienced researcher emphasises that more knowledge about road traffic injuries will highlight the problem and give the authorities an incentive to develop and implement preventive measures.

The project is in line with the UN's sustainability goal, section 3.6, which by 2020 aims to halve the number of deaths and injuries in the world caused by traffic accidents. In Malawi, traffic injuries crept up to 10th place in the ranking of causes of premature death in 2010, according to a study from the global burden of disease project, ref. figure below.  

Grafisk figur
Causes of premature death in Malawi in 1990 and 2010. Traffic injuries crept up two places to tenth place in 2010. Source: IHME, University of Washington, Seattle.

Collected basic information about traffic accidents 

The idea of the project is that increased knowledge about traffic accidents will give attention and incentives to the authorities to start prevention.

The Ministry of Health in Malawi has recommended the project, which follows up on goals in Malawi’s health strategy and their recently approved national alcohol policy. In addition, the project follows up on the UN Sustainable Development Goal number three, which states that the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents shall be halved by 2020 – a goal that has not been reached and therefore is suggested postponed till 2030.

The project received grants from the World Bank in 2017, and the planning and preparation has taken a long time. Only at the end of May 2019 could they start recruiting patients.

Voluntary participation

Traffic-injured patients (18 years or older) were informed of the project as they arrived at the emergency ward at Kamuzu Central Hospital, project partner and the largest public hospital in Malawi.  After being informed in English or the local language Chichewa, patients were then asked if they would like to participate in the project.

Thorough testing

Two young doctors at the emergency unit at Kamuzu measured the alcohol levels in the patients and registered this information in a form on iPad, developed for the project, in cooperation with the Norwegian project group and the group at Kamuzu. 

The hospital wants to build a database with basic information about adult patients who are admitted with injuries from road traffic accidents.

The doctors collected detailed information about the accident; the type of road through Google Maps; if it occurred in a rural or urban area; when the accident occurred; if it happened on a weekday or weekend; the type of vehicle involved; age and gender of the patient; if the patient was a driver, cyclist, passenger or pedestrian; the severity of the injury; and the alcohol level at admission. 

Depersonalised data

The data were depersonalised before registered in the iPad programme.Experts from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and Oslo University Hospital are supervisors (see text box).


High participation rate

In about three months, 1347 traffic-injured patients were asked to participate in the project. Of these, 88 refused to participate, which mean that the result was a participation rate of 93.5. Of those, 19.2 percent were women.– The high percentage of participants is particularly gratifying since the project was predicted low interest before we started the collection, as it was alcohol we should measure, says Asbjørg S. Christophersen.

Passengers is the largest patient group

The largest patient group was passengers (36%), followed by pedestrians (17.6%), cyclists (14.6%), motor vehicle drivers (14.5%), motorcyclists (12%), and a smaller group where the type of road user did not stay registered (about 5%).

Men and pedestrians more often influenced by alcohol

Alcohol was detected in 25.9% of men and only 2.5% of women. Alcohol was most common in the age group 26–34 years (25.6%) and in pedestrians (41.8%), followed by motorcyclists (24%), car drivers (23.8%), bus / minibus / lorry drivers (20, 8%), passengers (19.8%) and cyclists (19.1%).

Higher alcohol levels at weekend nights

Most dangerous and highest alcoholic occurrence was detected at weekend nights (00.00 - 06.00) in 58.3%, and 36.8% in the afternoon / evenings (18.00 - 24.00). In the afternoon / evening on regular weekdays (18.00 - 24.00), alcohol was detected in 34.4%.

Publishing of data

Three articles are published. See references below.

Received the Robert Borkenstein Prize

The Norwegian Public Health Institute received the Robert Borkenstein Prize awarded to Asbjørg S. Christophersen at the ICADTS (International Council on Alcohol and Drugs and Traffic Safety) conference in Edmonton, Canada, in 2019, for the implementation of the project. The prize is only awarded every three years.

Follow-up delayed due to COVID-19

A seminar in Lilongwe scheduled for early autumn 2020 was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, the World Bank branch in Washington DC invited to a virtual seminar on December 9 where the results were presented for representatives from five Malawian ministries as well as the police, the Directorate of Road Traffic and Safety Services, the Public Health Institute of Malawi, Kamuzu Central Hospital, Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, Malawi Alcohol Policy Alliance, researchers, students, the press, the Norwegian Embassy and the Norwegian project group. The project coordinators from Kamuzu presented the results and the project leader laid out the project preparations and recommendations for traffic safety measures.

-It was a successful seminar – also purely technical, which was definitely a concern, says project leader Asbjørg S. Christophersen. -We received a lot of praise from the World Bank and others. There were several questions from Uganda and South Africa, among others, who want to do something similar.

A prerequisite for knowledge-based policy 

The results will provide the governmental authorities in health, transportation and justice with particularly valuable information to shape a knowledge-based policy to improve road safety and create effective information campaigns. Christophersen refers to a poll that found that the 0.08 g/l alcohol legal limit in Malawi for driving a motor vehicle is little known to people.

− A reduction in traffic accidents could save Malawi health care resources, save lives and tragedies because individuals become disabled and destroyed for the rest of their lives.


This is the first time that the Norwegian Institute of Public Health has received project funding from the World Bank, through the Global Road Safety Facility, a multi-donor fund, established to assist authorities in the LMIC in developing a road traffic safety plan. The international organisation ICADTS (International Council on Alcohol Drugs and Traffic Safety) and the Norwegian Council for Road Safety have also contributed. The Church Aid’s local office in Lilongwe has been responsible for disbursements in Malawi.


From Norway:

Asbjørg S. Christophersen – project leader, Norwegian Institute of Public Health
Hallvard Gjerde – senior researcher, Oslo University Hospital
Stig Tore Bogstrand – senior researcher, Oslo University Hospital
Elin H. Wyller – project coordinator, Norwegian Institute of Public Health
Bjørn Iversen – department director, advisory role, Norwegian Institute of Public Health
Karine Nordstrand – department director, advisory role, Norwegian Institute of Public Health

From Malawi:

Dr. Carlos Varela, local project leader – main responsible in Malawi, Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH)
Dr. Sven Young, senior co-investigator – advisory role, KCH
Dr. Jonathan Ngoma, senior co-investigator – advisory role, KCH
Gift Mulimba – project coordinator, KCH
Chifundo Kajombo – project coordinator, KCH
The World Bank (main sponsor), the international organisation ICADTS (International Council on Alcohol Drugs and Traffic Safety), and Trygg Trafikk (Norwegian Council for Road Safety) have contributed with funding to the project.  



Global Road Safety Facility (2021). Global Road Safety Facility Annual Report 2021. Washington DC: Global Road Safety Facility, World Bank. (The project is mentioned on the pages 11-12.)

Norwegian Institute of Public Health and Oslo University Hospital (2021). Road Traffic
Injuries in Malawi: With Special Focus on the Role of Alcohol. Oslo, Norway. (World Bank Group for Global Road Safety Facility)

Christophersen AS, Bogstrand ST, Gjerde H, Sundet M, Wyller EH. Road Traffic Injuries in Malawi - with special focus on the role of alcohol. Notat −2021. Oslo: Folkehelseinstituttet, 2021.

Christophersen AS, Wyller EH, Sundet M, Bogstrand ST, Gjerde H. Trafikkulykker og alkohol i Malawi. Notat −2021. Oslo: Folkehelseinstituttet, 2021. 

Mads Sundet, Gift Mulima, Chifundo Kajombo, Hallvard Gjerde, Asbjørg S. Christophersen, Jan Erik Madsen, and Sven Young:  Geographical mapping of road traffic injuries in Lilongwe, Malawi. Injury, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.injury.2021.02.028

Mads Sundet M, Chifundo Kajombo, Gift Mulima, Stig Tore Bogstrand, Carlos Varela, Sven Young, Asbjørg S. Christophersen, and Hallvard Gjerde: Prevalence of alcohol use among road traffic crash victims presenting to a Malawian Central Hospital: a cross-sectional study. Traffic Injury Prevention, 2020.  https://doi.org/10.1080/15389588.2020.1819990 

Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. GBD Profile: Malawi. Seattle WA: IHME; 2012 (pdf) 

McCarthy N. The Worst Countries For Road Traffic Fatalities, Hamburg, Germany: Statista GmbH, 2016  

World Health Organization: Death on the roads  

World Health Organization: Global status report on road safety 2015, Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization, 2015

Global status report on road safety 2018. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2018

Christophersen AS, Mørland J, Stewart K, Gjerde H. 2016. International Trends in alcohol and drug use among motor vehicle drivers. Forensic Sci Rev. 28(1):38–66.

World Health Organization. 2018a. Global status report on alcohol and health 2018. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization. 

Dräger Alcotest 5820, Drägerwerk AG & Co., Lübeck, Germany.

Q.E.D.® A150, Orasure Technologies, Inc., Bethlehem, PA, USA.

Eide AH,,Braathen S, Azalde G, Munthali A,  Chiocha M, Ndawala J, Natvig H, Hoel E. Fighting poverty alcohol misuse prevention in Malawi – revised summary report (December  2013) SINTEF Technology and Society, 2013–12 -16.      

World Health Organization: Global status report on road safety 2015, Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization, 2015


24.06.2021: Updated with a link to the World Bank's final report and the FHI 's final results report. Added comment from the project manager. Changed the ingress.

21.03.22: Updated with link to annual report fram the World Bank on Global Road Safety Facility.

18.05.21: Updated with link to the new English version of the memorandum about results from the study.

22.03.21: Updated with link to the memorandum about results from the study and link to the third article published.

21.01.21: Updated with latest news from the closing seminar on 9 December 2020 including a link to the project presentation.

27.11.20: Updated the text on follow-up with virtual seminars and the first published article.

24.06.20: Updated the text with information on project implementation, preliminary results and further follow-up.