Malaria-related knowledge, attitudes and practices (KAP) were examined in a rural and partly urban multiethnic population of Kossi province in north-western Burkina Faso prior to the establishment of a local insecticide-treated bednet (ITN) programme. Various individual and group interviews were conducted, and a structured questionnaire was administered to a random sample of 210 heads of households in selected villages and the provincial capital of Nouna. Soumaya, the local illness concept closest to the biomedical term malaria, covers a broad range of recognized signs and symptoms. Aetiologically, soumaya is associated with mosquito bites but also with a number of other perceived causes. The disease entity is perceived as a major burden to the community and is usually treated by both traditional and western methods. Malaria preventive practices are restricted to limited chloroquine prophylaxis in pregnant women. Protective measures against mosquitoes are, however, widespread through the use of mosquito nets, mosquito coils, insecticide sprays and traditional repellents. Mosquito nets are mainly used during the rainy season and most of the existing nets are used by adults, particularly heads of households. Mosquito nets treated with insecticide (ITN) are known to the population through various information channels. People are willing to treat existing nets and to buy ITNs, but only if such services would be offered at reduced prices and in closer proximity to the households. These findings have practical implications for the design of ITN programmes in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).