Action Meningitis

Our work in Malawi

This crowded waiting room at a health centre in Malawi is typical of the problem Meningitis Research Foundation is tackling with Action Meningitis – a child in that room could be dying from bacterial meningitis and nobody would know.

More than half the babies and children who get meningitis in Malawi will die from the illness, while others are left with serious disabilities which the country is ill-equipped to support. Around 25% will have been misdiagnosed with malaria.

Our research in the second biggest city, Blantyre, showed there is a lack of awareness about the symptoms among health professionals and the public.

Our solution is Action Meningitis, a pilot project which focuses on the faster identification of sick children by using mobile phone technology (mHealth) and educating health care workers and the public to the dangers.


Why is this project important?


Action Meningitis is a pilot health project which raises awareness of meningitis among the public and health professionals and helps identify acute cases in clinics and hospitals.

Around 1,000 people globally die every day of meningitis. In Africa, deaths are especially high because, as the World Health Organization (WHO) has acknowledged, it is a neglected diseases. There are so many health issues on the continent, especially HIV/Aids, malnutrition, starvation and malaria, that other illnesses are easily missed.

Our research study into barriers to treatment in Blantyre, established around 25% of meningitis cases were misdiagnosed as malaria – which is why we are piloting Action Meningitis at five township clinics there.

Meet Kanny


This is Kanny who lost his hearing because of meningitis when he was six years old. His younger sister Zione, aged three, had been rushed to hospital with meningitis, but when his dad returned home he found Kanny very ill.
Kanny was taken to a health centre a 4km walk away and then to hospital where he was treated for 13 days. He is now deaf and has some learning problems. Zione was luckier; her main problem is she gets tired easily, but their 12 year old brother Yusuf died of meningitis before reaching hospital.

Support for disabled children is very poor in Malawi and Kanny is unable to go to school. He spends his days at home in his village with his mother and baby brothers and sister.



Chip diagnosis by traffic light


Chip is a special Action Meningitis character. He is a triage tool helping medical staff establish how quickly children need to be seen when they are feeling ill. He also features on posters in waiting rooms and on our ambi bikes so people in Malawi become familiar with the idea of being seen according to the priority of their case.

Triage has revolutionised emergency treatment of life-threatening illness in wealthy countries. A triage system using traffic lights, developed by WHO was piloted at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) in Blantyre and WHO now promotes this system for developing countries world-wide.

This system has already improved survival in children at QECH and so other hospitals in Malawi are now using it. We have shown that a triage system is sorely needed in primary care clinics where health workers are overwhelmed by people flooding into the clinic each morning, and children regularly die while waiting in the queue.

We have worked with our partners, the Malawi-Liverpool- Wellcome Trust, QECH and D-tree International to introduce the traffic light triage system into clinics using mobile phone technology to track referral to QECH.

Phone technology vital


Action Meningitis is using mobile phone technology (mHealth) to deliver the project, Health surveillance assistants patrol the queues at the medical centres, using a special programme on their mobile phones to identify sick children and track referrals.




Umoyo Mkukambirana


These are the words for Health Talk Radio in Malawi’s Chichewa language. This radio programme is spreading the word about meningitis to millions of people across Malawi.

Aimed at improving health awareness and knowledge, the programme is broadcast by the Malawi Broadcast Corporation and has already featured two sets of programming on meningitis funded by us.

Featuring medical professionals, the shows used phone-ins, discussions, real life experiences and even SMS to spread awareness of meningitis and knowledge of the symptoms.

Feedback from listening clubs and the data on SMS responses has been so positive we shall be doing more with Umoyo Mkukambirana in the year ahead.

Introducing our team in Malawi

Meet the people who are helping implement Action Meningitis in the primary health clinics.

Bernadetta Payesa, aged 25, lives in Chileka, Blantyre and is our field supervisor.

"I joined the team in October 2012 and my role is field supervisor to go out to the health facilities to make sure triage is being done and that the phones are working correctly. I have to feedback to our project manager Thomasena and D-tree (phone provider) if the phones have any problems."

More about Bernadetta and her work

Farouck Edward is 21, has a Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) is a registered student of the Institute for Commercial Management (ICM) in the UK and is studying project management.

Farouck joined Action Meningitis in Octber 2012 and is a field worker based in Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) tracking the referral cases from the health centres in Mpemba, Zingwangwa, Bangwe, Chilomoni, and Ndirande. He also helps the hospital staff with patient registration and weighing the sick children.

More about Farouck and his work

Willard Chilunga (25) comes from the Bangwe township where one our clinics is situated.

In October 2012 I joined Action Meningitis as a  a field worker at Queens Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH), which includes doing follow ups on patients that have been referred from the five Health facilities that we are working with: Bangwe, Ndirande, Chilomoni, Mpemba and Zingwangwa health facility.

More about Willard and his work

Diagnosing across continents

Thousands of miles separate them but Edith Cheonga and Emma Harding share a story. They were misdiagnosed and treated very late.

Edith from Chunga village was two years old when she became sick. Her parents rushed her to the nearest health centre where they treated her for malaria instead of meningitis – even though a test showed she didn’t have malaria.

By day three Edith’s fontanelle was bulging and she was referred to hospital where she ended up having major surgery and staying 10 days. She is now blind, deaf and unable to sit upright.

Emma from Bracknell Surrey in the UK was misdiagnosed – over the telephone and face to face. One doctor said the 15 month old had an ear infection. Hospitalised for over three months with pneumococcal meningitis, she is now eight and thanks to medical intervention and support can see, hear with a cochlear implant and is more mobile.

Elena Banda from Manchinjiri, Blantyre in Malawi lost her son, Praise, to bacterial meningitis in February 2010 aged 10 months.

"We arrived at QECH and they tried to turn us away as I hadn’t got a stamp in his Health Passport, I was told to go back to health clinic and get one and then come back. Praise was so sick that I went into a consultation room next door and the doctors saw how sick he was and admitted him."

Read Elena story in full

Dorika Kenedy, aged seven, from Chileka, Blantyre in Malawi, has had meningitis several times and she still suffers from headaches.

"We were at home for two weeks when she became ill again, I was told to wait for an ambulance or use public transport but I decided to get the minibus as it was quicker than waiting for the ambulance. I had to borrow money to get to the hospital. When we got to QECH she was admitted and treated at the hospital for another three weeks."

Read Dorika's story in full




We have lots of photographs illustrating how people access medical care in Malawi. Click on the pictures to see a selection:




    One of the biggest barriers to early treatment in Malawi is getting people to medical help. We have just delivered “ambi-bikes” to 10 remote villages in the Blantyre region to help speed up the process.

    It costs £300/€370 to provide a life-saving ambi-bike.

    With your help we want to provide another six bikes for Malawi.

    Please give generously.

    Thank you.




    Target amount

    £1800.00

    Donated so far

    £330.00

    So far £330.00 has been raised for this project including these recent donations...

    "God bless you in the work that you do."

    Donation by Tom McGrath on 04/12/2013

    £10.00

    + £2.50 Gift Aid

    Donation by Stephen Nye on 04/10/2013

    £250.00

    + £62.50 Gift Aid

    "Thank you for the work that you are doing. All the best."

    Donation by Brian C on 31/12/2012

    "I wish I could give as much as I've done in the past. "

    Donation by Jeff Thomas on 20/11/2012

    Donation by Tom Walker on 16/11/2012

    £10.00

    + £2.50 Gift Aid

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