To test the hypothesis that widespread treatment with artemisinin derivatives can reduce malaria transmission, a mass drug administration (MDA) campaign was undertaken in an area of The Gambia in 1999. Coverage of 85% of the target population was achieved, but the intervention did not reduce overall malaria transmission. We studied the perceptions, knowledge and attitudes of the community to the MDA campaign. A validated questionnaire was administered to randomly selected MDA participants (n = 90) and MDA refusers (n = 71). Individuals who believed in the importance of the MDA (adjusted OR 58.3%; 95% CI 17.4-195.8) and those who were aware that a high level of participation was needed for the MDA to be successful (adjusted OR 28.1; 95% CI 10.3-75.9) were more likely to participate. Understanding that the purpose of the MDA was to reduce malaria (adjusted OR 13.9; 95% CI 5.5-35.1) and knowledge of the fact that malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes and of the clinical signs of malaria (adjusted OR 3.4; 95% CI 3.1-9.0) were associated with participation. Individuals who discussed the MDA with other villagers (adjusted OR 5.5; 95% CI 2.2-13.5) and those who attended the sensitization meeting (adjusted OR 2.6; 95% CI 1.1-6.0) were also more likely to participate. Women were significantly more likely to participate in the MDA than men (adjusted OR 3.1; 95% CI 1.5-6.2). Individuals who refused to participate were unlikely to plan participation in future MDAs. One of the most difficult challenges in the implementation of a malaria control strategy such as an MDA is to convince villagers to participate and to make them aware that a high level of participation by the community is needed for success. We found that our sensitization meetings could be improved by giving more information on how the MDA works and finding means to generate small group discussions after the meeting.