Karonga is the northernmost district of Malawi, bordered by Lake Malawi on the East, by the Songwe River (border with Tanzania) on the North and the Nyika Plateau and highlands on the West and South. The district was isolated until 1981, when the national highway was extended into the district from the south. In 1988 a bridge was built across the Songwe, facilitating road contact with Tanzania. The current population (approximately 330,000, increasing at 3% per annum: crude birth rate c. 33/1000, infant mortality c.33/1000 live births) is rural, dependent upon subsistence agriculture and fish from the lake. It consists primarily of Tumbuka and Nkhonde speaking peoples, with small numbers of several other language groups represented.
Climate and terrain
Karonga is hot and dry from September to December, rainy from January to May, and cool and dry June to August. The terrain is flat and fertile along the lake, and increasingly hilly towards the west. There are several rivers, fed from the Nyika highlands to the west, and the northern sector is dominated by the floodplain of the Songwe river, some of which is accessible only by canoe for several months each year.
Health and services
Government health services are basic, with one 200 bed District Hospital in Karonga town staffed by two doctors and six clinical officers. There are two rural hospitals (in Chilumba and Kaporo) and fifteen rural health centres throughout the district.
MEIRU Campus in Chilumba, Karonga District
MEIRU’s headquarters in Chilumba are approximately six hours drive from Lilongwe (Malawi’s capital city and location of the closest international airport).
The project has a 15 acre site with extensive infrastructure, including administration offices, data management hub, laboratory complex and scientific offices as well as workshops, stores and staff housing. The MEIRU Research Laboratory at the Chilumba campus includes a Category III tuberculosis laboratory as well as microbiology, serology and immunology suites and media preparation facilities. It houses a large and carefully curated biorepository of samples linked to clinical and epidemiological data with highly secure technical back-up.
Project staff are based at health facilities throughout the districts with purpose built research facilities and clinic rooms at both Karonga District Hospital and Chilumba Rural Hospital.