Background: Rates of imported malaria in the UK and other European countries are increasing, and particularly the more serious Plasmodium falciparum malaria. This study investigated beliefs about malaria and barriers to the uptake and adherence to malaria prophylaxis experienced by African descent individuals in inner London who have low rates of use of malaria prophylaxis and high risks of P. falciparum malaria.
Design: Five focus groups conducted with 44 volunteers of African origin living in south London. Transcripts were analysed qualitatively.
Results: Failure to access the drugs prior to travel was influenced by perceptions of malaria as a low threat, non-serious and easily treatable, and a belief that they were vaccinated or somehow not at personal risk, together with concerns about side effects of the drugs, dislike of the taste and disbelief by some participants of the drugs effectiveness. Health service barriers included the cost of drugs, waiting times for appointments and uncertainty regarding appropriate medication. Adherence to the prophylaxis was hindered by difficulties in remembering complex regimes, a lack of understanding of the rationale for continuing the drugs after return to the UK and the practice of leaving drugs for relatives in Africa. However, there was some variability in beliefs and practices that appeared to be associated with socio-economic status, prior experience of malaria and the local organisation and delivery of primary care travel services.
Conclusions: Much non-adherence is 'intentional' and reflects both beliefs common to all travellers and the particular circumstances and experiences of migrants of African descent. However, there was considerable variability in beliefs and practices among participants that reflects the heterogeneity within the West African community in their socio-economic position and circumstances. Changing behaviours requires a multi-dimensional approach involving community-based health promotion that targets the beliefs of this ethnic group and health service measures.