Globally, health worker shortages continue to plague developing countries. Community health workers are increasingly being promoted to extend primary health care to underserved populations. Since 2004, Healthy Child Uganda (HCU) has trained volunteer community health workers in child health promotion in rural southwest Uganda. This study analyses the retention and motivation of volunteer community health workers trained by HCU. It presents retention rates over a 5-year period and provides insight into volunteer motivation. The findings are based on a 2010 retrospective review of the community health worker registry and the results of a survey on selection and motivation. The survey was comprised of qualitative and quantitative questions and verbally administered to a convenience sample of project participants. Between February 2004 and July 2009, HCU trained 404 community health workers (69% female) in 175 villages. Volunteers had an average age of 36.7 years, 4.9 children and some primary school education. Ninety-six per cent of volunteer community health workers were retained after 1 year (389/404), 91% after 2 years (386/404) and 86% after 5 years (101/117). Of the 54 'dropouts', main reasons cited for discontinuation included 'too busy' (12), moved (11), business/employment (8), death (6) and separation/divorce (6). Of 58 questionnaire respondents, most (87%) reported having been selected at an inclusive community meeting. Pair-wise ranking was used to assess the importance of seven 'motivational factors' among respondents. Those highest ranked were 'improved child health', 'education/training' and 'being asked for advice/assistance by peers', while the modest 'transport allowance' ranked lowest. Our findings suggest that in our rural, African setting, volunteer community health workers can be retained over the medium term. Community health worker programmes should invest in community involvement in selection, quality training, supportive supervision and incentives, which may promote improved retention.
Keywords: Community health worker; motivation; retention; volunteer.