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

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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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Keywords: Community health workers; developing countries; health care systems and policy; supportive supervision

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2016-01-01

More about this publication?
  • Family Medicine and Community Health (FMCH) is an open-access journal focusing on subjects that are common and relevant to family medicine/general practice and community health. The journal publishes relevant content across disciplines such as epidemiology, public health, social and preventive medicine, research and evidence based medicine, community health service, patient education and health promotion and health ethics. The journal has a specific focus on the management of chronic illness particularly diabetes, ischaemic heart disease, chronic heart failure, hypertension, bronchial asthma, chronic obstructive airways disease and common mental illness. FMCH is published by Compuscript http://www.compuscript.com on behalf of the Chinese General Practice Press http://www.chinagp.net.

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