Community health workers, known as Village Health Teams (VHTs) in Uganda, play a central role in increasing access to community-based health services. The objective of this research is to explore tensions that may emerge as VHTs navigate multiple roles as community members and care providers particularly when providing sensitive reproductive health and HIV care.
Twenty-five VHTs from a rural clinic in Uganda completed semi-structured interviews focused on experiences providing services. Interview questions focused on challenges VHTs face providing services and strategies for improving quality care. After translation from Luganda and transcription, interviews were analyzed using content analysis to identify emergent themes.
Most VHTs were female ( n = 16). The average age was 46, and average length of VHT work, 11 years. Analyses revealed that all VHTs capitalized upon the duality of their position, shifting roles depending upon context. Three themes emerged around VHTs’ perceptions of their roles: community insiders, professional outsiders, and intermediaries. A caregiver “insider” role facilitated rapport and discussion of sensitive issues. As community members, VHTs leveraged existing community structures to educate clients in familiar settings such as “drinking places”. However, this role posed challenges as some VHTs felt compelled to share their own resources including food and transport money. Occupying a professional outsider role offered VHTs respect. Their specialized knowledge gave them authority to counsel others on effective forms of family planning. However, some VHTs faced opposition, suspicions about their motives, and violence in this role. In balancing these two roles, the VHTs adopted a third as intermediaries, connecting the community to services in the formalized health care system. Participants suggested that additional training, ongoing supervision, and the opportunity to collaborate with other VHTs would help them better navigate their different roles and, ultimately, improve the quality of service.
As countries scale up family planning and HIV services using VHTs, supportive supervision and ethical dilemma training are recommended so VHTs are prepared for the challenges of assuming multiple roles within communities.