Why do community health workers volunteer? A qualitative study in Kenya

Public Health. 2012 Oct;126(10):839-45. doi: 10.1016/j.puhe.2012.06.005. Epub 2012 Oct 1.


Objectives: Globally, there is a dire shortage of healthcare workers, but the situation is particularly bad in low- and middle-income countries. To address this, task shifting of clinical work to lower-level staff, including volunteer health workers, has been used. Whilst there are examples worldwide of such an approach working, the sustainability of programmes based on a volunteer workforce is less certain. In addition, little is known about the factors that motivate such volunteers. This study sought to ascertain these motivational drivers.

Study design: Qualitative study using focus group discussions.

Methods: Qualitative study of volunteer community health workers (CHWs) in a rural district of Western Kenya. Twenty-three CHWs were sampled purposively, and took part in six focus group discussions. Thematic analysis was performed on the transcribed discussions.

Results: A variety of factors were identified as important drivers of motivation. These included financial as well as non-financial drivers, such as personal recognition, personal development and working conditions.

Conclusions: There are serious unanswered questions regarding the viability of healthcare programmes founded on a workforce reliant on volunteer CHWs. This study revealed the importance of some form of reward, be it financial or otherwise, in order to retain and maintain the engagement and motivation of volunteer CHWs in these settings.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Community Health Workers / psychology*
  • Community Health Workers / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Humans
  • Kenya
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motivation*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Reward
  • Rural Population / statistics & numerical data
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Volunteers / psychology*
  • Volunteers / statistics & numerical data