Background: Community health workers (CHWs) have been central to broadening the access and coverage of preventative and curative health services worldwide. Much has been debated about how to best remunerate and incentivize this workforce, varying from volunteers to full time workers. Policy bodies, including the WHO and USAID, now advocate for regular stipends.
Methods: This qualitative study examines the perspective of health programme managers from 16 international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who directly oversee programmes in resource-limited settings. It aimed to explore institutional guidelines and approaches to designing CHW incentives, and inquire about how NGO managers are adapting their approaches to working with CHWs in this shifting political and funding climate. Second, it meant to understand the position of stakeholders who design and manage non-governmental organization-run CHW programmes on what they consider priorities to boost CHW motivation. Individuals were recruited using typical case sampling through chain referral at the semi-annual CORE Group meeting in the spring of 2012. Semi-structured interviews were guided by a peer reviewed tool. Two reviewers analyzed the transcripts for thematic saturation.
Results: Six key factors influenced programme manager decision-making: National-level government policy, donor practice, implicit organizational approaches, programmatic, cultural, and community contexts, experiences and values of managers, and the nature of the work asked of CHWs. Programme managers strongly relied on national government to provide clear guidance on CHW incentives schemes. Perspectives on remuneration varied greatly, from fears that it is unsustainable, to the view that it is a basic human right, and a mechanism to achieve greater gender equity. Programme managers were interested in exploring career paths and innovative financing schemes for CHWs, such as endowment funds or material sales, to heighten local ownership and sustainability of programmes. Participants also supported the creation of both national-level and global interfaces for sharing practical experience and best practices with other CHW programmes.
Conclusion: Prescriptive recommendations for monetary remuneration, aside from those coming from national governments, will likely continue to meet resistance by NGOs, as contexts are nuanced. There is growing consensus that incentives should reflect the nature of the work asked of CHWs, and the potential for motivation through sustainable financial schemes other than regular salaries. Programme managers advocate for greater transparency and information sharing among organizations.