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Malar J. 2019 Dec 12;18(1):417. doi: 10.1186/s12936-019-3051-0.

Understanding the gap between access and use: a qualitative study on barriers and facilitators to insecticide-treated net use in Ghana.

Author information

Department of Epidemiology, Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research, College of Health Sciences, University of Ghana, Legon, Ghana.
Department of Social and Behavioral Science, School of Public Health, College of Health Sciences, University of Ghana, Legon, Ghana.
PMI VectorWorks Project, Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs, Baltimore, MD, USA.
U.S. President's Malaria Initiative, U.S. Agency for International Development, Accra, Ghana.
Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Cape Coast, Cape Coast, Ghana.
Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs, Accra, Ghana.
PMI VectorWorks Project, Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs, Baltimore, MD, USA.
Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, Basel, Switzerland.
University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland.



Mass and continuous distribution channels have significantly increased access to insecticide-treated nets (ITNs) in Ghana since 2000. Despite these gains, a large gap remains between ITN access and use.


A qualitative research study was carried out to explore the individual and contextual factors influencing ITN use among those with access in three sites in Ghana. Eighteen focus group discussions, and free listing and ranking activities were carried out with 174 participants; seven of those participants were selected for in-depth case study. Focus group discussions and case study interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim, and analysed thematically.


ITN use, as described by study participants, was not binary; it varied throughout the night, across seasons, and over time. Heat was the most commonly cited barrier to consistent ITN use and contributed to low reported ITN use during the dry season. Barriers to ITN use throughout the year included skin irritation; lack of airflow in the sleeping space; and, in some cases, a lack of information on the connection between the use of ITNs and malaria prevention. Falling ill or losing a loved one to malaria was the most powerful motivator for consistent ITN use. Participants also discussed developing a habit of ITN use and the economic benefit of prevention over treatment as facilitating factors. Participants reported gender differences in ITN use, noting that men were more likely than women and children to stay outdoors late at night and more likely to sleep outdoors without an ITN.


The study results suggest the greatest gains in ITN use among those with access could be made by promoting consistent use throughout the year among occasional and seasonal users. Opportunities for improving communication messages, such as increasing the time ITNs are aired before first use, as well as structural approaches to enhance the usability of ITNs in challenging contexts, such as promoting solutions for outdoor ITN use, were identified from this work. The information from this study can be used to inform social and behaviour change messaging and innovative approaches to closing the ITN use gap in Ghana.


Ghana; Insecticide-treated mosquito net; Malaria; Prevention

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