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Integration of community health workers into health systems in developing countries: Opportunities and challenges

Family Medicine and Community Health

Family Medicine and Community Health & American Chinese Medical Education Association

supportive supervision, developing countries, Community health workers, health care systems and policy

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      Abstract

      Background: Developing countries have the potential to reach vulnerable and underserved populations marginalized by the country’s health care systems by way of community health workers (CHWs). It is imperative that health care systems focus on improving access to quality continuous primary care through the use of CHWs while paying attention to the factors that impact on CHWs and their effectiveness. Objective: To explore the possible opportunities and challenges of integrating CHWs into the health care systems of developing countries. Methods: Six databases were examined for quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-methods studies that included the integration of CHWs, their motivation and supervision, and CHW policy making and implementation in developing countries. Thirty-three studies met the inclusion criteria and were double read to extract data relevant to the context of CHW programs. Thematic coding was conducted and evidence on the main categories of contextual factors influencing integration of CHWs into the health system was synthesized. Results: CHWs are an effective and appropriate element of a health care team and can assist in addressing health disparities and social determinants of health. Important facilitators of integration of CHWs into health care teams are support from other health workers and inclusion of CHWs in case management meetings. Sustainable integration of CHWs into the health care system requires the formulation and implementation of polices that support their work, as well as financial and nonfinancial incentives, motivation, collaborative and supportive supervision, and a manageable workload. Conclusions: For sustainable integration of CHWs into health care systems, high-performing health systems with sound governance, adequate financing, well-organized service delivery, and adequate supplies and equipment are essential. Similarly, competent communities could contribute to better CHW performance through sound governance of community resources, promotion of inclusiveness and cohesion, engagement in participatory decision making, and mobilization of local resources for community welfare.

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      Most cited references 77

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      Achieving child survival goals: potential contribution of community health workers.

      There is renewed interest in the potential contribution of community health workers to child survival. Community health workers can undertake various tasks, including case management of childhood illnesses (eg, pneumonia, malaria, and neonatal sepsis) and delivery of preventive interventions such as immunisation, promotion of healthy behaviour, and mobilisation of communities. Several trials show substantial reductions in child mortality, particularly through case management of ill children by these types of community interventions. However, community health workers are not a panacea for weak health systems and will need focussed tasks, adequate remuneration, training, supervision, and the active involvement of the communities in which they work. The introduction of large-scale programmes for community health workers requires evaluation to document the impact on child survival and cost effectiveness and to elucidate factors associated with success and sustainability.
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        Community health workers and the response to HIV/AIDS in South Africa: tensions and prospects.

        After a decline in enthusiasm for national community health worker (CHW) programmes in the 1980s, these have re-emerged globally, particularly in the context of HIV. This paper examines the case of South Africa, where there has been rapid growth of a range of lay workers (home-based carers, lay counsellors, DOT supporters etc.) principally in response to an expansion in budgets and programmes for HIV, most recently the rollout of antiretroviral therapy (ART). In 2004, the term community health worker was introduced as the umbrella concept for all the community/lay workers in the health sector, and a national CHW Policy Framework was adopted. We summarize the key features of the emerging national CHW programme in South Africa, which include amongst others, their integration into a national public works programme and the use of non-governmental organizations as intermediaries. We then report on experiences in one Province, Free State. Over a period of 2 years (2004--06), we made serial visits on three occasions to the first 16 primary health care facilities in this Province providing comprehensive HIV services, including ART. At each of these visits, we did inventories of CHW numbers and training, and on two occasions conducted facility-based group interviews with CHWs (involving a total of 231 and 182 participants, respectively). We also interviewed clinic nurses tasked with supervising CHWs. From this evaluation we concluded that there is a significant CHW presence in the South African health system. This infrastructure, however, shares many of the managerial challenges (stability, recognition, volunteer vs. worker, relationships with professionals) associated with previous national CHW programmes, and we discuss prospects for sustainability in the light of the new policy context.
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          Community Health Workers and Mobile Technology: A Systematic Review of the Literature

          Introduction In low-resource settings, community health workers are frontline providers who shoulder the health service delivery burden. Increasingly, mobile technologies are developed, tested, and deployed with community health workers to facilitate tasks and improve outcomes. We reviewed the evidence for the use of mobile technology by community health workers to identify opportunities and challenges for strengthening health systems in resource-constrained settings. Methods We conducted a systematic review of peer-reviewed literature from health, medical, social science, and engineering databases, using PRISMA guidelines. We identified a total of 25 unique full-text research articles on community health workers and their use of mobile technology for the delivery of health services. Results Community health workers have used mobile tools to advance a broad range of health aims throughout the globe, particularly maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS, and sexual and reproductive health. Most commonly, community health workers use mobile technology to collect field-based health data, receive alerts and reminders, facilitate health education sessions, and conduct person-to-person communication. Programmatic efforts to strengthen health service delivery focus on improving adherence to standards and guidelines, community education and training, and programmatic leadership and management practices. Those studies that evaluated program outcomes provided some evidence that mobile tools help community health workers to improve the quality of care provided, efficiency of services, and capacity for program monitoring. Discussion Evidence suggests mobile technology presents promising opportunities to improve the range and quality of services provided by community health workers. Small-scale efforts, pilot projects, and preliminary descriptive studies are increasing, and there is a trend toward using feasible and acceptable interventions that lead to positive program outcomes through operational improvements and rigorous study designs. Programmatic and scientific gaps will need to be addressed by global leaders as they advance the use and assessment of mobile technology tools for community health workers.
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            Author and article information

            Journal
            10.15212/FMCH.2016.0102

            https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/

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