Author(s): Sundararajan R, Kalkonde Y, Gokhale C, Greenough PG, Bang A
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Abstract BACKGROUND: Malaria infection accounts for over one million deaths worldwide annually. India has the highest number of malaria deaths outside Africa, with half among Indian tribal communities. Our study sought to identify barriers to malaria control within tribal populations in malaria-endemic Gadchiroli district, Maharashtra. METHODS AND FINDINGS: This qualitative study was conducted via focus groups and interviews with 84 participants, and included tribal villagers, traditional healers, community health workers (CHWs), medical officers, and district officials. Questions assessed knowledge about malaria, behavior during early stages of infection, and experiences with prevention among tribal villagers and traditional healers. CHWs, medical officers, and district officials were asked about barriers to treating and preventing malaria among tribal populations. Data were inductively analyzed and assembled into broader explanation linking barriers to geographical, cultural and social factors. Findings indicate lack of knowledge regarding malaria symptoms and transmission. Fever cases initially present to traditional healers or informal providers who have little knowledge of malaria or high-risk groups such as children and pregnant women. Tribal adherence with antimalarial medications is poor. Malaria prevention is inadequate, with low-density and inconsistent use of insecticide-treated nets (ITNs). Malaria educational materials are culturally inappropriate, relying on dominant language literacy. Remote villages and lack of transport complicate surveillance by CHWs. Costs of treating malaria outside the village are high. CONCLUSIONS: Geographic, cultural, and social factors create barriers to malaria control among tribal communities in India. Efforts to decrease malaria burden among these populations must consider such realities. Our results suggest improving community-level knowledge about malaria using culturally-appropriate health education materials; making traditional healers partners in malaria control; promoting within-village rapid diagnosis and treatment; increasing ITN distribution and promoting their use as potential strategies to decrease infection rates in these communities. These insights may be used to shape malaria control programs among marginalized populations.
This article was published in PLoS One
and referenced in Journal of Infectious Diseases & Therapy