Attitudes and Perceptions Towards Access and Use of the Formal Healthcare Sector in Northern Malawi
We evaluated community attitudes, perceptions, and experiences regarding access and use of health care systems in Northern Malawi. Through a qualitative descriptive approach, 12 focus group discussions were conducted in 2014 with community members (n=71) in Mzimba North, Malawi. Data were transcribed and analyzed for major themes. Both formal health care systems and traditional medicine were widely used as complementary. Health care-seeking behavior was governed by previous treatment history and by whether a disease was believed to be biological or spiritual in nature, the latter being best treated with traditional medicine. Barriers to using formal health care included cost, hospital resources/environment, socio-cultural beliefs, and transportation. Transportation was a significant barrier, often linked to increased mortality. Support of local strategies to address transportation, structural approaches to improve hospital capabilities and environment, and community education reconciling traditional beliefs and modern medicine may mitigate access issues and improve use of the health care system.