24 September 2018
To address the shortfall in human resources for health, Ethiopia launched the Health Extension Program (HEP) in 2004, establishing a health post with two female health extension workers (HEWs) in every kebele (community). In 2011, the Women’s Development Army (WDA) strategy was added, using networks of neighboring women to increase the efficiency of HEWs in reaching every household, with one WDA team leader for every 30 households. Through the strategy, women in the community, in partnership with HEWs, share and learn about health practices and empower one another. This study assessed the association between the WDA strategy implementation strength and household reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health care behaviors and practices.
Using cross-sectional household surveys and community-level contextual data from 423 kebeles representing 145 rural districts, an internal comparison group design was applied to assess whether HEP outreach activity and household-level care practices were better in kebeles with a higher WDA density. The density of active WDA leaders was considered as WDA strategy implementation strength; higher WDA density in a kebele indicating relatively high implementation strength. Based on this, kebeles were classified as higher, moderate, or lower. Multilevel logit models, adjusted for respondents’ individual, household and contextual characteristics, were used to assess the associations of WDA strategy implementation strength with outcome indicators of interest.
Average numbers of households per active WDA team leader in the 25th, 50th and 75th percentiles of the kebeles studied were respectively 41, 50 and 73. WDA density was associated with better service for six of 13 indicators considered ( p < 0.05). For example, kebeles with one active WDA team leader for up to 40 households (higher category) had respectively 7 (95% CI, 2, 13), 11 (5, 17) and 9 (1, 17) percentage-points higher contraceptive prevalence rate, coverage of four or more antenatal care visits, and coverage of institutional deliveries respectively, compared with kebeles with one active WDA team leader for 60 or more households (lower category).
Higher WDA strategy implementation strength was associated with better health care behaviors and practices, suggesting that the WDA strategy supported HEWs in improving health care services delivery.