Bacterial meningitis in the African meningitis belt remains 1 of the most serious threats to health. The perceptions regarding meningitis in local populations and the cost of illness for households are not well described. We conducted an anthropologic and economic study in Burkina Faso, in the heart of the meningitis belt. Respondents reported combining traditional and modern beliefs regarding disease etiology, which in turn influenced therapeutic care-seeking behavior.

Households spent US $90 per meningitis case, or 34% of the annual gross domestic product per capita, and up to US $154 more when meningitis sequelae occurred. Much of this cost was attributable to direct medical expenses, which in theory are paid by the government. Preventive immunization against meningitis will overcome limitations imposed by traditional beliefs and contribute to poverty reduction goals.