Health care workers (HCW) who are knowledgeable about leprosy can play an important role in promoting early case detection to prevent disabilities. Poor knowledge of leprosy leads to poor attitude about the disease and towards its sufferers. This study was done to assess knowledge and attitudes of health workers towards leprosy in Balaka district, southern Malawi.
This was a cross sectional study that included all HCW that do outpatient consultations in health facilities in Balaka district using a self-administered questionnaire. Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) version 20 was used for analysis.
Thirty five of the approached 38 HCW had heard about leprosy (21 nurses, 3 health surveillance assistants and 11 medical assistants). While 21 (60%) reported to ever have suspected leprosy in a patient, 13 (37%) HCW had never seen a case of leprosy before and 6 HCW (17%) had ever made a correct diagnosis of leprosy themselves. Twenty nine (83%) knew leprosy is an infectious disease, 1 (2.9%) thought it is due to witchcraft, 2 (5.7%) thought dirty environment causes leprosy. Six HCW (17%)mentioned inhalation as mode of transmission, 19 (54%) thought touching someone with the disease, 4 (11%) eating infected meat and another 4 (11%) uncleanliness can transmit leprosy. The skin and peripheral nerves were correctly mentioned by 32 HCW (91%) as organs which may be affected by leprosy. Whether leprosy is curable, 25 (71%) thought it is, 5 (14%) thought it is incurable and another 5 (14%) did not know. Seventeen HCW (49%) felt leprosy patients need isolation and 19 HCW (54%) were afraid they might catch leprosy at work. Of three diseases leprosy, HIV and diabetes, 26 (74%) HCW felt leprosy was the most dangerous as opposed to 4 (11%) and 3 (9%) that chose HIV and diabetes respectively. Only (16) 46% had learnt about leprosy during their training but 24 (69%) had read about leprosy out of self-interest and all the HCW felt they need on job or refresher training about leprosy.
There is a general lack of knowledge about leprosy. This may explain why many HCW have not had experience with leprosy patients even though it exists in their areas. Their fears about leprosy infectiousness and dangerousness are also based on this knowledge lack. Since such poor knowledge may lead to delayed diagnosis and stigma, education about leprosy to HCWs in Balaka must be part of any priority interventions to address challenges with leprosy control in the district.