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Malawi Med J. 2012 Dec;24(4):74-8.

Utilization of family members to provide hospital care in Malawi: the role of Hospital Guardians.

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University of North Carolina (UNC) School of Medicine.



Like most of sub-Saharan Africa, Malawi suffers from a paucity of human resources in the health sector. With an average of one physician for every 50,000 persons, and a health care professional to in-patient population ratio of 1:277, patient care suffers. At Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) of Lilongwe, Malawi, family members, termed Hospital Guardians, are utilized to provide basic care for patients. The aim of our study is to characterize this population and explore their role in the health care system of KCH.


Seventy three semi-qualitative surveys and nineteen in-depth interviews were conducted with hospital administrators, Guardians, nurses, and physicians from these wards. The results were analyzed using descriptive analysis and emergent coding.


It was found that Hospital Guardians were primarily female family members of patients and have a low literacy rate. They performed a wide range of daily tasks in patient care from wound care to advocacy. Despite their essential role in the health care system, the Guardians were provided with little support from the hospital. There was often conflict between the Guardians and hospital personnel due to overcrowding with more than one Guardian per patient; a lack of understanding of hospital rules and regulations; and a lack of respect for the Guardian role by hospital staff.


Until their role can be reduced by additional trained health care professionals, patient care could be improved by institutional support including a clarification of the role of the Hospital Guardians. Recommendations include a one-patient one-guardian policy; Guardian education; and enhancing Guardian resources.

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