Engaging community health workers in maternal and newborn care in eastern Uganda

Monica Okuga, Margaret Kemigisa, Sarah Namutamba, Gertrude Namazzi, Peter Waiswa
Global Health Action 2015, 8: 23968

BACKGROUND: Community health workers (CHWs) have been employed in a number of low- and middle-income countries as part of primary health care strategies, but the packages vary across and even within countries. The experiences and motivations of a multipurpose CHW in providing maternal and newborn health have not been well described.

OBJECTIVE: This study examined the perceptions of community members and experiences of CHWs around promoting maternal and newborn care practices, and the self-identified factors that influence the performance of CHWs so as to inform future study design and programme implementation.

DESIGN: Data were collected using in-depth interviews with six local council leaders, ten health workers/CHW supervisors, and eight mothers. We conducted four focus group discussions with CHWs. Respondents included 14 urban and 18 rural CHWs. Key themes explored included the experience of CHWs according to their various roles, and the facilitators and barriers they encounter in their work particular to provision of maternal and newborn care. Qualitative data were analysed using manifest content analysis methods.

RESULTS: CHWs were highly appreciated in the community and seen as important contributors to maternal and newborn health at grassroots level. Factors that positively influence CHWs included being selected by and trained in the community; being trained in problem-solving skills; being deployed immediately after training with participation of local leaders; frequent supervision; and having a strengthened and responsive supply of services to which families can be referred. CHWs made use of social networks to identify pregnant and newly delivered women, and were able to target men and the wider family during health education activities. Intrinsic motivators (e.g. community appreciation and the prestige of being 'a doctor'), monetary (such as a small transport allowance), and material incentives (e.g. bicycles, bags) were also important to varying degrees.

CONCLUSIONS: There is a continued role for CHWs in improving maternal and newborn care and linking families with health services. However, the process for building CHW programmes needs to be adapted to the local setting, including the process of training, deployment, supervision, and motivation within the context of a responsive and available health system.

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