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Hope and despair: community health assistants' experiences of working in a rural district in Zambia

Citation: 
Joseph Mumba Zulu, John Kinsman, Charles Michelo and Anna-Karin Hurtig. Hope and despair: community health assistants' experiences of working in a rural district in Zambia. Human Resources for Health 2014, 12:30 doi:10.1186/1478-4491-12-30
Abstract / Summary: 
Abstract (provisional)   Background: In order to address the challenges facing the community-based health workforce in Zambia, the Ministry of Health implemented the national community health assistant strategy in 2010. The strategy aims to address the challenges by creating a new group of workers called community health assistants (CHAs) and integrating them into the health system. The first group started working in August 2012. The objective of this paper is to document their motivation to become a CHA, their experiences of working in a rural district, and how these experiences affected their motivation to work.   Methods: A phenomenological approach was used to examine CHAs' experiences. Data collected through in-depth interviews with 12 CHAs in Kapiri Mposhi district and observations were analysed using a thematic analysis approach.   Results: Personal characteristics such as previous experience and knowledge, passion to serve the community and a desire to improve skills motivated people to become CHAs. Health systems characteristics such as an inclusive work culture in some health posts motivated CHAs to work. Conversely, a non-inclusive work culture created a social structure which constrained CHAs' ability to learn, to be innovative and to effectively conduct their duties. Further, limited supervision, misconceptions about CHA roles, poor prioritisation of CHA tasks by some supervisors, as well as non- and irregular payment of incentives also adversely affected CHAs' ability to work effectively. In addition, negative feedback from some colleagues at the health posts affected CHA's self-confidence and professional outlook. In the community, respect and support provided to CHAs by community members instilled a sense of recognition, appreciation and belonging in CHAs which inspired them to work. On the other hand, limited drug supplies and support from other community-based health workers due to their exclusion from the government payroll inhibited CHAs' ability to deliver services.   Conclusions: Programmes aimed at integrating community-based health workers into health systems should adequately consider multiple incentives, effective management, supervision and support from the district. These should be tailored towards enhancing the individual, health system and community characteristics that positively impact work motivation at the local level if such programmes are to effectively contribute towards improved primary healthcare.
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Selected extracts: 
'Delayed communication of important information to CHAs by a few supervisors also demoralised CHAs. For example, it was reported that some supervisors shelve important documents instead of giving them to CHAs upon receiving them from the MoH. 
˜So it's today that I have found a certain CHA implementation book. I asked her (supervisor) when it came and she said a long time ago. There are also other materials that came in October last year and we are only seeing them now in May." (CHA 6, male). 
 
"The way we are working with the neighbourhood health committee, we are not comfortable… thhey are not regarding us as trained staff. So they regard the cashier, watchman and cleaner as people who have better information." (CHA 3, male).' 
 
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Author(s): 

Joseph Mumba Zulu, John Kinsman, Charles Michelo and Anna-Karin Hurtig. 

Year published: 
2014
Month published: 
May