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Involvement of community health workers in the COVID-19 pandemic response in Uganda: A qualitative study.

Community Health Workers (CHWs) are a key human resource for health particularly in low- and middle-income countries. In many parts of the world, CHWs are known to have played an instrumental role in controlling the COVID-19 pandemic. This study explored the involvement of CHWs in the COVID-19 response in Uganda. A qualitative study that involved 10 focus group discussions (FGDs) among CHWs was conducted. The study was carried out in 5 districts of Amuria, Karenga, Kamwenge, Bugiri and Pader. The FGD guide used explored the role of CHWs in the COVID-19 response in their communities including lived experiences, challenges, and coping mechanisms. The data were analyzed thematically with the support of NVivo version 12 pro (QSR International). CHWs were at the frontline of COVID-19 prevention interventions at households and in the community. CHWs raised awareness on prevention measures including wearing face masks, hand hygiene, and social distancing. They identified suspected cases such as new members entering the community, as well as individuals returning from abroad with signs and symptoms of COVID-19. CHWs mobilized the community and increased awareness on COVID-19 vaccination which played an important role in reducing misinformation. They also supported home-based management of mild COVID-19 cases through isolation of patients; provided health and nutritional guidance among patients in their homes; and referred suspected cases to health facilities for testing and management. Both monetary and non-monetary incentives were provided to support CHWs in the COVID-19 response. However, the adequacy and timing of the incentives were inadequate. Routine services of CHWs such as health promotion and treatment of childhood illnesses were disrupted during the pandemic. CHWs played an instrumental role in response to the pandemic especially on surveillance, risk communication, and observance of preventing measures. Strategies to ensure that routine services of CHWs are not disrupted during pandemics are needed.

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