Background This study investigated causes of malaria and how cases were managed at household level, in order to improve the ability to identify malaria and ensure correct use of chloroquine. It was conducted in Nakonde District, Northern Province of Zambia, between 2000 and 2001. Nakonde district is in a hyperendemic malaria province, where Plasmodium falciparum is predominant. The district has a total population of 153, 548 people, the majority of whom are peasant farmers. The main aim of the post intervention survey was to establish the proportion of caretakers of children five years and below, who were able to identify simple and severe malaria and treat it correctly using chloroquine in the home. Methods A baseline survey was conducted in five wards divided into intervention and control. Intervention and control wards were compared. Village health motivators and vendors were identified and trained in three intervention wards, as a channel through which information on correct chloroquine dose could be transmitted. A total of 575 carers, who were 15 years old and above and had a child who had suffered from malaria 14 days before the survey commenced, were interviewed. The two control wards received no intervention. 345 caretakers were from the intervention wards, while 230 came from the control wards. Identification of malaria and correct use of anti-malarial drugs was assessed in terms of household diagnosis of malaria in children under five years, type and dose of anti-malarial drugs used, self medication and the source of these anti-malarials. Results The majority of respondents in the study were females (81%). Chloroquine was the most frequently used anti-malarial (48.5%) in both the intervention and control wards. There was no difference between the intervention and control wards at pre-intervention (P = 0.266 and P = 0.956), in the way mothers and other caretakers identified simple and severe malaria. At baseline, knowledge on correct chloroquine dosage in the under five children was comparable between intervention and control wards. Post-intervention revealed that mothers and other caretakers were 32% and 51%, respectively, more likely to identify simple and severe malaria. There was a 60% increase on correct chloroquine dosage in all age groups among carers living in post-intervention wards. Conclusion Compliance with standard therapeutic doses and correct identification of malaria was poorest in control wards, where no motivators and vendors were trained.