Knowledge of malaria prevention among pregnant women and female caregivers of under-five children in rural southwest Nigeria

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Malaria is a completely preventable disease; however, about 3.4 billion people are at risk of the disease globally with 1.2 billion people at high risk (World Health Organization, 2013). In 2012, malaria was responsible for the death of approximately 482,000 under-five children even though an estimated 136 million Insecticide Treated Nets (ITNs) were distributed to endemic countries the same year (World Health Organization, 2013). Thus, malaria is still a major public health concern particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the developing world (Pluess et al., 2009; Pluess et al., 2010). In Nigeria, malaria is responsible for around 60% of the out-patient visits to health facilities, 30% of childhood death, 25% of death in children under one year and 11% of maternal deaths (National Population Commission, 2008; Noland et al., 2014). Similarly, about 70% of pregnant women suffer from malaria, which contributes to maternal anemia, low birth weight, still births, abortions and other pregnancy-related complications (Federal Ministry of Health Abuja, 2005). The financial loss due to malaria is estimated to be about 132 billion Naira ($797 million) annually in form of treatment costs, prevention costs and loss of man-hours (Noland et al., 2014; World Health Organization, 2012).

Malaria, a debilitating febrile and life threatening illness, is caused by a parasite called Plasmodium. Its route of transmission still remains as bites from infected female anopheles mosquitoes. Environmental factors and behavioral patterns of vectors and human populations combine to provide favorable conditions for malaria transmission (Boutin et al., 2005). Proven effective options to reduce morbidity and mortality include early diagnosis, combined with prompt effective therapy and malaria prevention through reduction of human-vector contact, especially with the use of ITNs (World Health Organization, 2007). Perceptions about malaria illness, particularly households’ perceived susceptibility and beliefs about the seriousness of the disease, are important preceding factors for decision-making concerning preventive and curative actions (Rakhshani et al., 2003). The understanding of the possible causes, modes of transmission, and individual preference and decision-making about the adoption of preventive and control measures vary from community to community and among individual households (Adongo, Kirkwood & Kendall, 2005). There have been a considerable number of reports about knowledge, attitudes, and practices relating to malaria and its control from different parts of Africa. These reports concluded that misconceptions concerning malaria still exist and that practices for the control of malaria have been unsatisfactory (Ahorlu et al., 1997; Alaii et al., 2003; Laver, Wetzels & Behrens, 2001; Obol, David Lagoro & Christopher Garimoi, 2011).

Achieving sustainable control of the disease depend on extensive public health promotional programs which focus on current and proven methods of malaria prevention and management. While much is known about vector biology and behaviour and the malaria parasites, the importance of human behaviour in malaria transmission has not been critically evaluated. Studies focusing on the current practices of malaria prevention and treatment options in the population are sparse. Thus, it is expedient to evaluate current knowledge of malaria prevention practices and management options as well as the uptake of the management options. In most high-burden countries (including Nigeria), ITN coverage is still below agreed targets (Minja & Obrist, 2005). This may be related to the perception of its use among the community members. The knowledge about the preventive measures of malaria is an important preceding factor for the acceptance and use of ITN for malaria control by the community members (Minja et al., 2001). Therefore, this study assessed the knowledge of malaria prevention with emphasis on knowledge of ITN use among pregnant women and caregivers of under-five children in Igbo-Ora.

Igbo-Ora is a rural community in Ibarapa Central Local Government Area (LGA) of Oyo State, Southwest Nigeria. The main towns in the LGA are Igbo-Ora and Idere. Igbo-Ora is the larger town with a population of 60,000 people. The LGA has ten political wards with seven located in Igbo-Ora, the study site. Igbo-Ora is located about 128 km from Lagos—the Nigerian economic capital. The predominant language in the study area is Yoruba. However, migrant farm labourers from the republic of Benin, Togo and Ghana reside in the LGA. There are some nomadic Fulanis who live in settlements around the town.

Igbo-Ora is further divided into six census areas comprised of 62 enumeration areas, each with an average population of 600 people. Furthermore, each enumeration area is divided into compounds, and each compound has about 100 women in the reproductive age group.


The study population is made up of pregnant women in their reproductive age (15–49 years) and female caregivers of under-five children, who have lived in the community for at least one year. For the purpose of this study, caregivers may include mothers and female guardians of under-five children.

A community-based descriptive cross-sectional survey was carried out using a multistage cluster sampling technique. Three enumeration areas were selected by simple random sampling through balloting from each of the six census areas. Subsequently, two compounds were selected from each of these enumeration areas by balloting. A minimum sample size of 126 was estimated using the Leslie and Kish formula for approximating sample size for cross sectional study. This was multiplied by a factor of two to adjust for clustering effect. A total of 631 eligible and consenting caregivers of under-five children and pregnant women in the households within the selected compounds were then interviewed. All the people who were approached consented to participate in the study.

A pre-tested semi-structured interviewer-administered questionnaire was used to collect information on the socio-demographic characteristics of respondents, knowledge of malaria prevention and knowledge of ITN use, and perception of ITN use in malaria prevention. Knowledge about malaria prevention and ITN use were assessed through a six-point score each. A point was given to each correct answer, and 0 to each wrong answer. The mean knowledge score was used to dichotomize knowledge scores. Knowledge about malaria prevention was categorized into “good” (4–6) and “poor” (0–3) while scores of 0–4 were deemed poor and 5–6 were considered good for knowledge of ITN use for malaria prevention. The questionnaire was translated to Yoruba in order to enable proper understanding by respondents and back-translated to English to ensure that the original meaning was retained. Questionnaire administration was done by four trained research assistants whose minimum educational qualifications were to have a National Certificate in Education (NCE) or Ordinary National Diploma (OND), and were fluent in speaking the local dialect. The questionnaire was pre-tested in Idere, the second main town in Ibarapa Central LGA.

Data were analyzed using the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS version 16). Associations between variables were tested using Chi-square with the level of statistical significance set at 5%. The raw data for this study may be accessed through:

The Oyo State Ethical Review Committee, Ministry of Health, Ibadan gave ethical clearance and approval for this study (reference number: AD 13/479/76). Informed verbal consent was also gotten from individual research participant before data collection. The respondents were also reminded of their right to decline to take part in the study as well as to withdraw any time during the interview. Confidentiality was assured and maintained throughout the study. The importance of the study was explained to participants as well as how their participation in the study will contribute towards malaria prevention programing in Nigeria.


Figure 1 shows the distribution of respondents. A total of 631 respondents were interviewed, out of whom 536 (84.9%) were caregivers of under-five children. The socio-demographic characteristics of respondents are shown in Table 1. The mean age of respondents was 27.7 ± 6.3 years, with about 53% aged between 20 and 29 years. More than 90% have at least primary education while trading (60.2%) was the most common occupation among respondents. About 70% were married and living with their spouses. A greater proportion, (71.9%) of respondents were either in or from a monogamous relationship. About 60% of respondents have 2 children or less while almost all (97.5%) have 2 or less under-five children. About 97% were from the Yoruba ethnic affiliation and more than half, (57.6%) were Muslims. Most respondents, 64.7% earned less than ₦10,000 ($59.4) monthly. Only 8.4% earned ₦30,000 ($178.2) and above. The median average income was ₦5000 ($29.7); range: ₦1000–₦150,000.

Distribution of respondents.

Figure 1: Distribution of respondents.

Table 1:
Socio-demographic characteristics of the respondents (N = 631).
Socio-demographic characteristics Frequency Percentage
Age group
<20 36 5.7
20–29 337 53.4
30–39 230 36.5
≥40 28 4.4
Level of education
No formal education 56 8.9
Primary 206 32.6
Secondary 275 43.6
Tertiary 94 14.9
Trading 380 60.2
Civil servant 78 12.4
Farming 15 2.4
Unemployed 158 25
Income (₦)
<1,000 408 64.7
10,000–19,000 107 17.0
20,000 – 29,000 63 10.0
≥30,000 53 8.4
Marital status
Single 30 4.8
Co-habiting 85 13.5
Married, living together 440 69.7
Married, living alone 67 10.6
Separated 8 1.3
Divorced 1 0.2
Family type
Monogamous 454 71.9
Polygamous 177 28.1
Total number of children
0–2 380 60.2
3–4 228 36.1
≥5 23 3.7
Number of U-5 children
0–2 615 97.5
3–4 16 2.5
Ethnic group
Yoruba 611 96.8
Igbo 7 1.1
Hausa 5 0.8
Others 8 1.3
Christianity 268 42.5
Islam 363 57.6
DOI: 10.7717/peerj.792/table-1

Table 2 revealed that less than half of respondents (42.3%) had good knowledge of malaria prevention. Table 3 shows that respondents’ knowledge regarding methods of malaria prevention. About 85%, 82%, and 75% knew that malaria could be prevented through keeping the environment clean, clearing of bushes around houses and use of ITN respectively. However, approximately 77% and 82% of respondents felt taking native concoction and using malaria prophylaxis respectively could prevent the occurrence of malaria infection.

Table 2:
Respondents’ knowledge score of malaria prevention.
Knowledge score (0–6) Frequency Percentage
Good (4–6) 269 42.3
Poor (0–3) 364 57.7
DOI: 10.7717/peerj.792/table-2


Mean=3.4 ± 1.2.

Table 3:
Respondents’ distribution of knowledge about methods of malaria prevention.*
Methods of malaria prevention Yes (%) No (%)
Drinking native concoction 485 (76.9) 146 (23.1)
Keeping our environment clean 534 (84.6) 97 (15.4)
Clearing of bushes around the house 516 (81.8) 115 (18.2)
Use of antibiotics 300 (47.5) 331 (52.5)
Use of ITN 473 (75.0) 158 (25.0)
Use of antimalarial prophylaxis 519 (82.3) 112 (17.7)
DOI: 10.7717/peerj.792/table-3


Multiple response.

Nearly 84% of participants had heard of ITN, while almost 70% had good knowledge of the use of ITN in malaria prevention (Table 4). Regarding the use of ITN in malaria prevention, about 80% knew that ITN is useful in malaria prevention and over three-quarters understood that it could kill mosquito (Table 5).

Table 4:
Respondents’ awareness of ITN and knowledge score of ITN use in malaria prevention.
Number Percent
Yes 527 83.5
No 104 16.5
Knowledge score of ITN use in malaria (0–6)
Good (5–6) 438 69.4
Poor (0–4) 193 30.6
Total 631 100.0
DOI: 10.7717/peerj.792/table-4


Mean knowledge score = 4.4 ± 1.7.

Table 5:
Respondents’ distribution of knowledge about the use of ITN in malaria prevention.*
Knowledge if ITN use Yes (%) No (%)
Keep flies away 409 (64.8) 222 (35.2)
Keep rats away 171 (27.1) 460 (72.9)
Fishing 152 (24.1) 479 (75.9)
Prevents mosquito bite 520 (82.4) 111 (17.6)
Useful in malaria prevention 503 (79.7) 128 (20.3)
Kills mosquitoes 476 (75.4) 155 (24.6)
DOI: 10.7717/peerj.792/table-5


Multiple response.

Table 6 shows the attitude of under-five caregivers and pregnant women regarding ITN and its use. Roughly 63% of respondents did not agree that window/door nets was better or the same as ITN. Similarly, 61% of participants disagreed with the statement that “ITN does not make any difference in malaria prevention.” Well over half of participants (56.1%) agreed that “either one uses mosquito net or not, those that will be infected with malaria will definitely have it.” Majority were indifferent as to whether ITN causes irritation, heat rash, cough, vomiting in pregnancy, miscarriage, mortality in children and bad odor.

Table 6:
Respondents’ attitude towards ITN and its use.
Agree (%) Don’t know (%) Disagree (%)
It is the same as window/door net 97 (15.4) 134 (21.2) 400 (63.4)
It does not make any difference in malaria prevention 103 (16.3) 144 (22.8) 384 (60.9)
ITN smells badly 43 (6.8) 451 (71.5) 137 (21.7)
ITN causes irritation 20 (3.2) 469 (74.3) 142 (22.5)
ITN causes heat rashes 21 (3.3) 466 (73.9) 144 (22.8)
ITN causes cough/illness 10 (1.6) 465 (73.7) 156 (24.7)
ITN causes nightmares/bad dreams 5 (0.8) 459 (72.7) 167 (26.5)
The chemical in ITN can kill children 3 (0.5) 450 (71.4) 178 (28.2)
ITN use in pregnancy can cause miscarriage 2 (0.3) 457 (72.4) 172 (27.3)
ITN can cause vomiting in pregnant women 10 (1.6) 464 (73.5) 157 (24.9)
ITN cannot kill mosquitoes 26 (4.1) 338 (53.6) 267 (42.3)
ITN is not readily available 137 (21.7) 389 (61.6) 105 (16.6)
ITN is expensive 157 (24.9) 419 (66.4) 55 (8.7)
Window nets/door nets are better 35 (5.5) 212 (33.6) 384 (60.9)
Ordinary net (without insecticide) is better/preferable 40 (6.3) 202 (32.0) 389 (61.6)
Either you use mosquito net or not those who will have malaria will still have it 354 (56.1) 121 (19.2) 156 (24.7)
DOI: 10.7717/peerj.792/table-6

Table 7 demonstrated that mothers and under-five caregivers with higher educational status, who were civil servants, with higher income, and married had good knowledge of malaria prevention (p<0.05). Similarly respondents who earned high income and were married had significantly better knowledge of ITN use (Table 8).

Table 7:
Association between respondent characteristics and knowledge of malaria prevention.
Knowledge of Malaria prevention
Variables Poor n(%) Good n(%) Chi-square p-value
Level of education
No formal education 33 (58.9) 23 (41.1)
Primary 131 (63.6) 75 (36.4) 23.145 <0.001
Secondary 165 (60.0) 110 (40.0)
Tertiary 33 (35.1) 61 (64.9)
Trading 232 (61.1) 148 (38.9)
Artisan 34 (50.7) 33 (49.3) 35.317 <0.001
Civil servant 24 (30.8) 54 (69.2)
Farming 14 (93.3) 1 (6.7)
Others 58 (63.7) 33 (36.3)
Average monthly income
<10,000 249 (61.0) 159 (39.0)
10,000–19,999 60 (56.1) 47 (43.9) 10.813 0.013
20,000–29,999 25 (39.7) 38 (60.3)
≥30,000 28 (52.8) 25 (47.2)
Marital status
Never married 86 (74.8) 29 (25.2) 17.436 <0.001
Ever married 276 (53.5) 240 (46.5)
Christianity 142 (53.0) 126 (47.0) 3.661 0.056
Islam 220 (60.6) 143 (39.4)
Pregnant 42 (64.6) 23 (35.4)
Under-5-caregiver 310 (57.8) 226 (42.2) 5.128 0.077
Both 12 (40.0) 18 (60.0)
DOI: 10.7717/peerj.792/table-7
Table 8:
Association between respondent characteristics and knowledge of ITN use.
Knowledge of utilization of ITN
Characteristics Poor n(%) Good n(%) X 2 p value
Level of education
No formal education 20 (35.7) 36 (64.3)
Primary 74 (35.9) 132 (64.1) 19.504 <0.001
Secondary 88 (32.0) 187 (68.0)
Tertiary 11 (11.7) 83 (88.3)
Trading 128 (33.7) 252 (66.3)
Artisan 20 (29.9) 47 (70.1)
Civil servant 10 (12.8) 68 (87.2) 13.627 0.009
Farming 5 (33.3) 10 (66.7)
Others 30 (33.0) 61 (67.0)
<10,000 149 (36.5) 259 (63.5)
10,000–19,999 27 (25.2) 80 (74.8) 13.452 0.004
20,000–29,999 9 (14.3) 54 (85.7)
≥30,000 8 (15.1) 45 (84.9)
Marital status
Never married 66 (57.4) 49 (42.6) 47.592 <0.001
Ever married 127 (24.6) 389 (75.4)
Christianity 76 (28.4) 192 (71.6) 1.089 0.169
Islam 117 (32.2) 246 (67.8)
Pregnant 14 (21.5) 51 (78.5)
Under-5-caregiver 173 (32.3) 363 (67.7) 4.811 0.090
Both 6 (20.0) 24 (80.0)
DOI: 10.7717/peerj.792/table-8


This study was conducted to assess knowledge of malaria prevention with emphasis on ITN use among female caregivers of under-five children and pregnant women in Igbo-Ora, a rural community in Southwest Nigeria. The overall knowledge of malaria prevention practices among majority of the respondents was found to be poor. This finding agrees with the submissions of Fawole & Onyeaso (2008) who showed that even among health workers in Ibadan, Southwest Nigeria, knowledge of malaria preventive strategies was poor. However, this finding is at variance with the conclusions of Adegun, Adegboyega & Awosusi (2011) and Oyewole & Ibidapo (2007) who showed that the general knowledge about malaria prevention among urban residents in Southwest Nigeria was good. The knowledge picture seen among respondents in this study could be as a result of a lack of exposure to health education messages regarding malaria prevention, being rural dwellers, or the respondents’ poor health seeking behavior. For those who had exposure to health messages in health facilities, some might find it difficult to understand malaria prevention information given during antenatal and postnatal clinics. This might be partly due to inappropriate means of communication and delivery of these messages by the health workers in addition to the low level of education of the respondents. The respondents’ level of education was found to be significantly associated with knowledge of malaria prevention. Therefore, achieving malaria prevention, just like any other health message, depend on the level of education of respondents among other reasons.

Furthermore, relatively high proportions of the respondents in our study knew that use of antimalarial prophylaxis in pregnancy, clearing of bushes around the house and keeping the environment clean were part of malaria prevention strategies. The knowledge of the importance of prophylaxis for malaria prevention may be a function of the fact that they had benefited from intermittent preventive treatment (IPT) during index or previous pregnancies during which they might have had health education on the issue. However, other studies from Nigeria (Falade et al., 2006; Okeke, Uzochukwu & Okafor, 2006) and Tanzania (Comoro et al., 2003) have documented that gaps still exist in the knowledge of causation and treatment of malaria in rural areas and that these gaps have serious public health implications.

Most of these rural respondents still exhibited some myths and misconceptions about malaria prevention. Drinking of native concoction and use of antibiotics for malaria treatment were some of the erroneous believes reported. The finding on the use native concoction by pregnant women in Nigeria is corroborated by Fakeye and colleagues (2009) who advised that questions on herbal drug use should be routinely asked by health workers during antenatal care to forestall dangerous drug interactions. Herbal preparations, though not medically recommended for the treatment of diseases like malaria is an innate traditional practice which is considered normal by people because of a deep cultural attachment. Inadequate information from health workers and the respondents’ low level of education could also contribute to the misconceptions of malaria treatment. Continuous efforts at providing necessary information by relevant health organizations are needed to control and prevent incidence of malaria in the general public.

More than two-thirds of the respondents had good knowledge of ITN use for malaria prevention. Awosan et al. (2013), in a study to determine the prevalence and barriers to the use of insecticide-treated nets among pregnant women attending ante-natal clinic in a Specialist Hospital at Sokoto, reported similar finding. However, in a hospital-based study about awareness of ITN use in Abeokuta, Southwest Nigeria, Runsewe-Abiodun, Iyabo & Christy (2012) reported low awareness and linked this to the low utilization among the pregnant women interviewed. The current ongoing aggressive public health campaign which involves mass distribution of ITNs at PHC centers could account for the high awareness noted in this study. However, some respondents had poor attitudes and misconceptions about the use of ITNs. The respondents’ attitudes may have a strong implication on ownership and utilization of ITNs (Onwujekwe et al., 2005).

Conclusion and recommendations

Despite concerted efforts at malaria control nationwide, knowledge of malaria prevention was below average among rural caregivers of under-five children and pregnant women in the study area. Myths and misconceptions about malaria prevention is still prevalent. There is a need for a concerted health education intervention to improve the knowledge of rural dwellers regarding malaria prevention especially with the use of Insecticide Treated Net. Continuous efforts at providing necessary information by relevant health organizations are needed to control and reduce incidence of malaria in the general public.

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