This month marks 30 years since Marie Stopes International opened its doors in Malawi in 1987, to help refugees fleeing the armed conflict in neighbouring Mozambique.
A peace agreement ended the civil war in 1992, but women's desperate need for family planning remained and so did our programme.
Over the last three decades, our programme - Banja La Mtsogolo (BLM) - has made real progress, and today it is Malawi's largest non-profit provider of quality sexual and reproductive health services, providing 65 per cent of the country's contraceptives. Yet unmet need remains high due to misconceptions, a lack of contraceptive products and financial barriers.
Thanks to the support of UKAID, USAID and the European Commission in Malawi, BLM provides up to 85 per cent of its services free at the point of delivery through its 600 mobile outreach sites. Services at BLM's centres and its Bluestar clinics are also often significantly subsidised, but cost remains a barrier and BLM's monthly free family planning days can see client figures rise by up to 1,000% in a single day.
Speaking at a press briefing in the capital Lilongwe to celebrate its 30th anniversary, Country Director Nicky Matthews reinforced BLM's unwavering commitment to the people of Malawi by announcing 90 days of free contraception and counselling in its 29 centres.
"The objective is to give back to the populations of Malawi where BLM centres are located, by improving access to modern contraception and post abortion care," said Matthews. According to BLM's chair Dr Wesley Sangala, the programme has provided more than 1.9 million modern contraception services to Malawian women since 2008, including over 300,000 long acting and permanent methods.
These services are vital in a country with a high maternal mortality ratio of 510 deaths per 100,000 live births and where inadequate obstetric care and restricted safe abortion services mean Malawian women are exposed to the risks of childbirth for pregnancies they did not even want to have.
At 4.4 children per family, Malawi's fertility rate is also among the highest in the world and is putting increasing pressure on the already strained resources in the country.
"Contraception options and reproductive health services are therefore essential to reducing the rapid population growth and improving the economic outlook and the well-being of people in the country," said Dr Sangala.