Background: Malaria remains the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in sub-Saharan Africa despite tools currently available for its control. Making malaria vaccine available for routine use will be a major hallmark, but its acceptance by community members and health professionals within the health system could pose considerable challenge as has been found with the introduction of polio vaccinations in parts of West Africa. Some of these challenges may not be expected since decisions people make are many a time driven by a complex myriad of perceptions. This paper reports knowledge and perceptions of community members in the Kintampo area of Ghana where malaria vaccine trials have been ongoing as part of the drive for the first-ever licensed malaria vaccine in the near future.
Methods: Both qualitative and quantitative methods were used in the data collection processes. Women and men whose children were or were not involved in the malaria vaccine trial were invited to participate in focus group discussions (FGDs). Respondents, made up of heads of religious groupings in the study area, health care providers, traditional healers and traditional birth attendants, were also invited to participate in in-depth interviews (IDIs). A cross-sectional survey was conducted in communities where the malaria vaccine trial (Mal 047RTS,S) was carried out. In total, 12 FGDs, 15 IDIs and 466 household head interviews were conducted.
Results: Knowledge about vaccines was widespread among participants. Respondents would like their children to be vaccinated against all childhood illnesses including malaria. Knowledge of the long existing routine vaccines was relatively high among respondents compared to hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenza type B vaccines that were introduced more recently in 2002. There was no clear religious belief or sociocultural practice that will serve as a possible barrier to the acceptance of a malaria vaccine.
Conclusion: With the assumption that a malaria vaccine will be as efficacious as other EPI vaccines, community members in Central Ghana will accept and prefer malaria vaccine to malaria drugs as a malaria control tool. Beliefs and cultural practices as barriers to the acceptance of malaria vaccine were virtually unknown in the communities surveyed.