Nutritional and hygienic practices contribute to high morbidity and mortality rates related to malnutrition in Madagascar. This study, a research effort that brought together charitable organisations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and university collaborators, investigates women's health knowledge in the Anosy region of Madagascar. The needs assessment sought to characterise women's knowledge and understanding of nutrition and hygiene. Eight focus groups of 13–60 women each were conducted in the seven most impoverished communes of the Anosy region (n=373). Participants were recruited with the aid of a UK–Malagasy partnered NGO, Azafady. Study findings show that women fully understand the interplay between poor nutrition, hygiene and malnutrition but are unable to change everyday practices because the barriers to better nutrition and hygiene seem beyond their control. These findings may be used to prioritise projects and research seeking to improve nutrition and hygiene, thus reducing malnutrition in the Anosy region.