In underserved populations, the contribution of community health workers (CHWs) is vital to the healthcare systems. Attrition of these workers causes critical breakdowns in the delivery of essential services to these populations. Literature on reasons for attrition is limited, although some have been identified in studies on sustainability of CHW programmes. These factors are, however, likely to be influenced by context. We measured CHW attrition and its predictors in a rural area in Kenya.
We conducted a nested case–control study and focus group discussions among CHWs involved in a maternal and child health project. A training register of 1005 CHWs was used to sample and follow CHWs for attrition. Incidence of CHW attrition was calculated using a Poisson model. Separately, we used logistic regression to determine predictors of CHW attrition.
Of the 1005 CHWs, 498 (49.6%) had left the project by the time of the study. The incidence of attrition was 46.8/1000 person-years (95% CI 38.7 to 56.5). In the case–control study, lack of interest in peer organisation membership (OR 5.3; 95% CI 1.3 to 20.6) was associated with attrition. Absence of refresher training (OR 4.0; 95% CI 2.2 to 7.1) and receiving no feedback from supervisors (OR 2.0; 95% CI 1.0 to 3.9) were also associated with attrition. Discordance in expectations and perceived heavy workload were also identified as key reasons for attrition in the qualitative study.
This study estimates high prevalence and incidence of CHW attrition in Kwale County, Kenya. Ongoing training, feedback and peer support are also important in enhancing retention of CHWs. Additionally, expectations regarding the roles and benefits of involvement in CHW work should be communicated clearly, and workload should be kept reasonable or negotiated with the CHWs.