Community knowledge, perceptions and attitudes regarding leprosy in rural Cameroon: The case of Ekondotiti and Mbonge health districts in the South-west Region
Although leprosy is one of the oldest diseases known to humanity, it remains largely misunderstood. Misconceptions about leprosy lead to stigma towards people with the disease. This study aimed at exploring the knowledge, perceptions and attitudes regarding leprosy in rural Cameroon.
We carried out a cross-sectional community survey of 233 respondents aged 15–75 years, free from leprosy, and living in two rural health districts of the South-west Region of Cameroon. A questionnaire designed to evaluate knowledge, perceptions and attitudes about leprosy was used. Binary logistic regression was used to determine independent predictors of negative attitudes.
About 82% of respondents had heard about, and 64.4% knew someone with leprosy. Information on leprosy was mainly from community volunteers (40.6%), friends (38.0%), and the media (24%). Only 19.7% of respondents knew the cause of leprosy, and a considerable proportion linked it to a spell (25.3%), unclean blood (15.5%) and heredity (14.6%). About 72% knew that leprosy is curable and 86.3% would advise medical treatment. Attitudes towards leprosy patients were generally negative. Only 42% would shake hands, 32.6% would share the same plate, and 28.3% and 27% respectively, would allow their child to play or marry a person with leprosy. Furthermore, only 33.9% approved of participation of leprosy patients, and 42.9% of their employment. Independent predictors of negative attitudes were: the belief that leprosy is a curse; is caused by a germ; and having seen a leprosy patient. The negative attitudes were dampened by: the beliefs that leprosy is a punishment, is hereditary and is due to poor personal hygiene.
An awareness intervention using community volunteers and the media, with information on the cause of leprosy, its clinical manifestations and curability, and sensitization messages correcting the misconceptions and beliefs regarding leprosy, could improve the community knowledge and attitudes towards leprosy. This would ultimately contribute to the reduction of leprosy burden in the community.