Malawi follow-up study results
Published on: December 14, 2023

LEEP and the Malawi Bureau of Standards conducted a new study to assess recent changes in lead paint levels in Malawi. Taking into account estimated market share data, the results suggest that the market share of brands selling lead paint for home use has reduced from approximately 67% in 2021 to 24% in 2023.

The main driver of this reduction was that the study did not detect lead in the samples from Malawi’s most popular paint brand, which previously had high levels of lead. This brand is estimated to have approximately 45% of market share, and the study results suggest that it has switched to lead-free following LEEP’s engagement.

Of the five smaller brands still found to be using lead, one has told LEEP that it has stopped using lead since the study, and three others, including one that was found to have replaced some of its lead ingredients, have publicly committed to moving to lead-free.

The results of this study are in line with the increase in manufacturer compliance projected in our January 2022 cost-effectiveness estimate for our Malawi program.

LEEP and MBS study

Lead exposure has severe negative health impacts, particularly on children. It causes permanent damage to their cognitive development, worsening their educational outcomes and future potential. Later in life, lead exposure causes hypertension and heart disease. Lead poisoning from paint and from other sources is estimated to affect 3.4 million children in Malawi, costing the country $878 million in lost earnings every year. 

LEEP and the Malawi Bureau of Standards (MBS) conducted a new study to assess the effect so far of LEEP and MBS’s work to eliminate lead in paint in Malawi.

In September 2023 LEEP and MBS purchased 20 cans of home-use solvent-based paint from paint shops and hardware stores in Blantyre. We used the same testing method as previous LEEP studies – purchasing white, red and yellow oil-based paints for each brand, where available – summarised in our past blog post and set out in more detail in Kambarami et al. (2022) and Siddiqui et al. (2023).

Results summary

Encouragingly, the research found that paint manufacturers have made progress towards ending the use of lead in Malawi’s paint. 

Malawi has a mandatory standard stating that there shall be no lead in paint. The minimum reporting limit on the laboratory test used by LEEP is 60 ppm, which is below the 90 ppm limit recommended by the WHO and UNEP

Directly comparing the same paints that were sampled in the 2021 study to the 2023 study, the percentage that contained detected lead (60 ppm or above) had reduced from 60% to 33%.

Of the 2023 samples that were not directly comparable to the 2021 study, four contained detected lead, and one had no detected lead. The full results of both studies are provided in the Appendix below.

Based on discussions with the manufacturers and with paint sellers, we estimated the market shares of the different brands. These estimates are approximate and there was no comprehensive market data available. We estimated each brand’s share of the entire paint market by volume, not the market for a specific type or colour of paint. Taking into account this data, the results suggest that the market share of brands selling lead paint for home use has reduced from approximately 67% to 24%.

Lead status and estimated market share

Lead status and estimated market share of brands in the 2021 and 2023 studies. Lead was not detected in the Brand C samples in 2023, and most other brands have publicly committed to moving to lead-free by mid-2024 (including Brand E, which reported that it moved to lead-free in November 2023).

The results of this study are in line with the increase in manufacturer compliance projected in our January 2022 estimate of the cost-effectiveness of our Malawi program. The model projected a 53% reduction in non-compliance by market share in 2023 and these results suggest an approximately 64% reduction in non-compliance. We plan to publish a new cost-effectiveness analysis of our global paint program next year.


LEEP has engaged with the paint manufacturers in Malawi to explain the health impacts of lead paint and how manufacturers can remove lead from their paint. 

We have identified replacement lead-free raw materials, in particular pigments and driers, and have supported the manufacturers in finding supply routes for those materials into Malawi. Our paint technologist has provided guidance on using the lead-free pigments, and we are offering free one-to-one technical support to manufacturers as they switch to those lead-free raw materials.

Our new study did not detect lead in the samples from Rainbow and Plascon,* estimated to be Malawi’s two most popular brands, with approximate market shares of 45% and 30% respectively. Rainbow previously had high levels of lead, and reformulated following LEEP’s engagement. 

“As a leading brand in Malawi, with around 45% of market share, Rainbow Paints is delighted to have switched to lead-free. Eradicating lead from paint is technically and commercially feasible, and our customers appreciate our commitment to health and the environment. We are grateful to LEEP for bringing to light the important issue of lead paint in Malawi, and we are proud to have worked with them to transition to lead-free.

Spokesperson for Rainbow Paints

The 2023 study also showed that Monolux had made progress towards eliminating lead from its paint. We did not find high levels of lead in its white oil-based paint, which had previously had high levels of lead. This indicates that it is likely to have switched to lead-free driers.

We still found, though, that five smaller brands were using lead. We expect several of these to move to lead-free in the coming months. Medal (manufactured by Rainbow Paints Ltd) has told us that it has already moved to lead-free since the study. Monolux (manufactured by Monolux Paints Ltd), Crown (manufactured by Valmore Paints Ltd) and Tropical (manufactured by OG Paints Ltd) have publicly committed to moving to lead-free. And we continue to engage with Coral (manufactured by Insignia Africa Ltd), the other brand in which we found high lead. LEEP expects to carry out further testing next year to confirm that the remaining manufacturers have switched to lead-free.

At Monolux, we’re taking a significant step towards a healthier and safer environment. We’re currently in the process of transitioning to lead-free formulations in our paints, and we anticipate introducing these eco-friendly alternatives by early-2024.”

Spokesperson for Monolux Paints 

  Valmore Paints is committed to protecting the health of children, and is in the process of reformulating our paint to remove lead ingredients. We expect our lead-free paint to be on the market by mid-2024.

Spokesperson for Valmore Paints

  “Tropical Paints has always stood for high quality products. Our technical experts are testing lead-free alternatives, and we expect them to be available by March 2024.

Spokesperson for Tropical Paints

Government partnership

Since finding high levels of lead in Malawi’s paint in 2021, LEEP and MBS have worked in close partnership to address this problem.

MBS has built improved testing capacity in its new laboratory complex, strengthened auditing processes, and has taken steps to update the standards limiting lead in paint.

Having strengthened its testing capacity, the Malawi Bureau of Standards is now in a strong position to ensure compliance with mandatory standards prohibiting lead in paint. The reduction of lead in paint shown by this study demonstrates that progress is possible. We urge the remaining manufacturers to immediately remove lead-containing raw materials from their paint to comply with mandatory standards and protect the population from harm.

Dr Bernard Thole, Director General of the Malawi Bureau of Standards


Five major media outlets in Malawi covered the study results: Nyasa Times, The Nation, Zodiak, Maravi Express, Kulinji.

Malawi media examples

Examples of media coverage of LEEP and MBS’s study.

Next steps

MBS plans to undertake regular further testing, with support from LEEP, to ensure that the remaining manufacturers using lead transition to lead-free.

LEEP will continue assisting the manufacturers with finding suitable lead-free pigments and offering free technical support with adjusting their paint formulations.


LEEP would like to thank the dedicated and expert team at the Malawi Bureau of Standards for their close ongoing partnership.

* Note to consumers

LEEP uses the term “lead-free” to refer to lead concentrations below the relevant threshold, in this case the 60 ppm minimum reporting limit. LEEP tests yellow and red oil-based paints because high concentrations of lead in paint are most likely to originate from the yellow and red pigments used in oil-based paints. LEEP cannot, however, guarantee that any one brand has safe levels of lead in all of its paints. This is because we have not tested all types and colours of paint from each brand, and our testing does not capture subsequent changes a manufacturer might make to its paint formulation.


The following table shows the lead concentrations of the paints tested in 2021 and 2023. 

We aimed to test the yellow, red and white colours of each brand’s oil-based paint. Where no data is shown, this indicates that the paint was not available or was discontinued. Where a similar colour from the same brand was available, this is included instead.

Brand Colour 2021 lead
concentration (ppm)
2023 lead
concentration (ppm)
Brand A Yellow <60 <60
Brand A Red <60 <60
Brand A White <60 <60
Brand B Yellow 63
Brand B Red <60
Brand C Yellow 4200 <60
Brand C Red 17000 <60
Brand C White <60 <60
Brand D Yellow 10000
Brand D Green 480
Brand D Red 3800 5900
Brand D Cream <60 <60
Brand E Green 60 660
Brand E Red 3300 4400
Brand E White <60 <60
Brand F Yellow 760 9600
Brand F Red 8100
Brand F White 1700 <60
Brand G Yellow 13000
Brand G Green 3900 360
Brand G Red 260
Brand G White 61 <60
Brand H Green 1600
Brand H Red 1800
Brand H Cream 2300
Brand I Yellow 27000
Brand I Red 8000
Brand I White <60





Lead concentrations of oil-based paints tested in 2021 and 2023.