The 2013–2016 Ebola virus disease outbreak in West Africa exposed an urgent need to strengthen health surveillance and health systems in low-income countries, not only to improve the health of populations served by these health systems but also to promote global health security. Chronically fragile and under-resourced health systems enabled the initial outbreak in Guinea to spiral into an epidemic of over 28 616 cases and 11 310 deaths (as of 5 May 2016) in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, requiring an unprecedented global response that is still ongoing. Control efforts were hindered by gaps in the formal health system and by resistance from the community, fuelled by fear and poor communication. Lessons learnt from this Ebola outbreak have raised the question of how the affected countries, and other low-income countries with similarly weak health systems, can build stronger health systems and surveillance mechanisms to prevent future outbreaks from escalating. Factors that were important in the growth and persistence of the Ebola virus outbreak were lack of trust in the health system at the community level, the spread of misinformation, deeply embedded cultural practices conducive to transmission (e.g. burial customs), inadequate reporting of health events and the public’s lack of access to health services. Community health workers are in a unique position to mitigate these factors through surveillance for danger signs and mobilisation of communities when an outbreak has been identified. In this paper the authors make the case for investing in robust national community health worker programmes as one of the strategies for improving global health security, for preventing future catastrophic infectious disease outbreaks and for strengthening health systems.
This study aimed to determine the knowledge, opinions and practices of healthcare workers in maternity wards in a regional hospital in Bloemfontein, Free State Province, South Africa, regarding infant feeding in the context of HIV. For this descriptive cross-sectional study, all the healthcare workers in the maternity wards of Pelonomi Regional Hospital who voluntarily gave their consent during the scheduled meetings (n = 64), were enrolled and given self-administered questionnaires. Only 14% of the respondents considered themselves to be experts in HIV and infant feeding. Approximately 97% felt that breastfeeding was an excellent feeding choice provided proper guidelines were followed. However, 10% indicated that formula feeding is the safest feeding option. 45% stated that heat-treated breast milk is a good infant feeding option; however, 29% considered it a good infant feeding option but it requires too much work. Only 6% could comprehensively explain the term “exclusive breastfeeding” as per World Health Organisation (WHO) definition. Confusion existed regarding the period for which an infant could be breastfed according to the newest WHO guidelines, with only 26% providing the correct answer. Twenty per cent reported that no risk exists for HIV transmission via breastfeeding if all the necessary guidelines are followed. Healthcare workers' knowledge did not conform favourably with the current WHO guidelines, even though these healthcare workers were actively involved in the care of patients in the maternity wards where HIV-infected mothers regularly seek counselling on infant feeding matters.
Despite a global recognition from all stakeholders of the gravity and urgency of health worker shortage in Africa, little progress has been achieved to improve health worker coverage in many of the African human resources for health (HRH) crisis countries. The problem consists in how policy is made, how leaders are accountable, how the World Health Organization (WHO) and foreign funders encourage (or distort) health policy, and how development objectives are prioritized in these countries. The paper uses political economy analysis, which stems from a recognition that the solution to the shortage of health workers across Africa involves more than a technical response. A number of institutional arrangements dampen investments in HRH, including a mismatch between officials’ tenure in office and program results, the vertical nature of health programming, the modalities of Overseas Development Assistance in health, the structures of the global health community, and the weak capacity in HRH units within Ministries of Health. A major change in policy-making would only occur with a disruption to the political or institutional order. The case study of Ethiopia, who has increased its health workforce dramatically over the last 20 years, disrupted previous institutional arrangements through the power of ideas—HRH as a key intermediate development objective. The framing of HRH created the rationale for the political commitment to investment in health workers. The authors argue that Ethiopia demonstrates that political will coupled with strong state capacity and adequate resource mobilization can overcome the institutional hurdles above.
Community health workers (CHWs) are uniquely placed to link communities with the health system, playing a role in improving the reach of health systems and bringing health services closer to hard-to-reach and marginalised groups. A systematic review was conducted to determine the extent of equity of CHW programmes and to identify intervention design factors which influence equity of health outcomes. In accordance with published protocol, the authors systematically searched eight databases from 2004 to 2014 for quantitative and qualitative studies which assessed access, utilisation, quality or community empowerment following introduction of a CHW programme according to equity stratifiers (place of residence, gender, socio-economic position and disability). Thirty four papers met inclusion criteria. A thematic framework was applied and data extracted and managed, prior to charting and thematic analysis. The authors believe this to be the first systematic review that describes the extent of equity within CHW programmes and identifies CHW intervention design features which influence equity. CHW programmes were found to promote equity of access and utilisation for community health by reducing inequities relating to place of residence, gender, education and socio-economic position. CHWs can also contribute towards more equitable uptake of referrals at health facility level. There was no clear evidence for equitable quality of services provided by CHWs and limited information regarding the role of the CHW in generating community empowerment to respond to social determinants of health. Factors promoting greater equity of CHW services include recruitment of most poor community members as CHWs, close proximity of services to households, pre-existing social relationship with CHW, provision of home-based services, free service delivery, targeting of poor households, strengthened referral to facility, sensitisation and mobilisation of community. However, if CHW programmes are not well planned some of the barriers faced by clients at health facility level can replicate at community level. CHWs promote equitable access to health promotion, disease prevention and use of curative services at household level. However, care must be taken by policymakers and implementers to take into account factors which can influence the equity of services during planning and implementation of CHW programmes.
The recent thematic series on close-to-community providers published in this journal brings together 14 papers from a variety of contexts and that use a range of research methods. The series clearly illustrates the renewed emphasis and excitement about the potential of close-to-community (CTC) providers in realising universal health coverage and supporting the sustainable development goals. This editorial discusses key themes that have emerged from this rich and varied set of papers and reflect on the implications for evidence-based programming. The authors argue that it is a critical stage in the development of CTC programming and policy which requires the creation and communication of new knowledge to ensure the safety, sustainability, quality and accessibility of services, and their links with both the broader health system and the communities that CTCs serve.
With a global target set at reducing vision loss by 25% by the year 2019, sub-Saharan Africa with an estimated 4.8 million blind persons will require human resources for eye health (HReH) that need to be available, appropriately skilled, supported, and productive. Targets for HReH are useful for planning, monitoring, and resource mobilization, but they need to be updated and informed by evidence of effectiveness and efficiency. Supporting evidence should take into consideration (1) ever-changing disease-specific issues including the epidemiology, the complexity of diagnosis and treatment, and the technology needed for diagnosis and treatment of each condition; (2) the changing demands for vision-related services of an increasingly urbanized population; and (3) interconnected health system issues that affect productivity and quality. The existing targets for HReH and some of the existing strategies such as task shifting of cataract surgery and trichiasis surgery, as well as the scope of eye care interventions for primary eye care workers, will need to be re-evaluated and re-defined against such evidence or supported by new evidence.
In 2015, the One Million Community Health Workers (1mCHW) Campaign and mPowering Frontline Health Workers (mPowering) conducted a series of interviews and held an online discussion, hosted on the Healthcare Information for All forum, on the need for improved data on community health workers (CHWs) to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. The key findings showed that CHWs deliver life-saving health care services than can address health issues in poor rural communities. They help keep track of disease outbreaks and overall public health, and offer a vital link between underserved populations and the primary health care system. CHWs have been recognised for their success in reducing morbidity and averting mortality in mothers, newborns and children. While they have proven crucial in settings where the primary health care system is weak, or where there are health workforce shortages, they are most effective when properly supported and deployed within the context of an appropriately financed health system.
An understanding of rural communities is fundamental to effective community-based rehabilitation work with persons with disabilities. The authors argue that insufficient attention has been paid to the challenges that rural community disability workers face. This qualitative interpretive study, involving in-depth interviews with 16 community disability workers in Botswana, Malawi and South Africa, revealed the complex ways in which poverty, inappropriately used power and negative attitudes of service providers and communities combine to create formidable barriers to the inclusion of persons with disabilities in families and rural communities. The paper highlights the importance of understanding and working with the concept of ‘disability’ from a social justice and development perspective. It stresses that by targeting attitudes, actions and relationships, community disability workers can bring about social change in the lives of persons with disabilities and the communities in which they live.
In Tanzania staff shortages in the healthcare system are a persistent problem, particularly in rural areas. To explore this the authors explored which cadres are most problematic to recruit and keep in post, for what reasons and why do some stay and cope? Qualitative data were generated through semi-structured interviews with Council Health Management Teams, and Critical Incident Technique interviews with mid-level cadres. Complementary quantitative survey data were collected from district health officials. Mid-level cadres were problematic to retain and caused significant disruptions to continuity of care when they left. Reasons for wanting to leave included perceptions of personal safety, feeling patient outcomes were compromised by poor care or as a result of perceived failed promises. Staying and coping with unsatisfactory conditions was often about being settled into a community, rather than into the post. The Human Resources for Health system in Tanzania was reported to lack transparency. The authors suggest that centralised monitoring could help to avoid early departures, misallocation of training, and to enable other incentives. It should match workers' profiles to the most suitable post for them and track their progress and rewards; training managers and holding them accountable. In addition, they argue that priority should be given to workplace safety, late night staff transport, modernised and secure compound housing, and in measures to involve the community in reforming the culture and practices in services.
Due to a limited health workforce, many health care providers in Africa must take on health leadership roles with minimal formal training in leadership. Hence, the need to equip health care providers with practical skills required to lead high-impact health care programs. In Uganda, the Afya Bora Global Health Leadership Fellowship is implemented through the Makerere University College of Health Sciences (MakCHS) and her partner institutions. Lessons learned from the program, presented in this paper, may guide development of in-service training opportunities to enhance leadership skills of health workers in resource-limited settings. The Afya Bora Consortium, a consortium of four African and four U.S. academic institutions, offers 1-year global health leadership-training opportunities for nurses and doctors. Applications are received and vetted internationally by members of the consortium institutions in Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and the USA. Fellows have 3 months of didactic modules and 9 months of mentored field attachment with 80% time dedicated to fellowship activities. Fellows’ projects and experiences, documented during weekly mentor-fellow meetings and monthly mentoring team meetings, were compiled and analysed manually using pre-determined themes to assess the effect of the program on fellows’ daily leadership opportunities. Between January 2011 and January 2015, 15 Ugandan fellows (nine doctors and six nurses) participated in the program. Each fellow received 8 weeks of didactic modules held at one of the African partner institutions and three online modules to enhance fellows’ foundation in leadership, communication, monitoring and evaluation, health informatics, research methodology, grant writing, implementation science, and responsible conduct of research. In addition, fellows embarked on innovative projects that covered a wide spectrum of global health challenges including critical analysis of policy formulation and review processes, bottlenecks in implementation of national HIV early infant diagnosis and prevention of mother-to-child HIV-transmission programs, and use of routine laboratory data about antibiotic resistance to guide updates of essential drug lists. In-service leadership training was feasible, with ensured protected time for fellows to generate evidence-based solutions to challenges within their work environment. With structured mentorship, collaborative activities at academic institutions and local health care programs equipped health care providers with leadership skills.