This article is based on a collaborative research study of policy and practice in national community health worker (CHW) programs in developing countries. The study involved a review of the relevant literature, case studies in Botswana, Colombia and Sri Lanka, and an international workshop where the future of such programs was discussed. The findings of this research are discussed under four headings: unrealistic expectations, poor initial planning, problems of sustainability, and the difficulties of maintaining quality. It is clear that existing national community health worker programs have suffered from conceptual and implementation problems. However, given the interest and political will, governments can address these problems by adopting more flexible approaches within their CHW programs, by planning for them within the context of all health sector activities rather than as a separate activity, and by immediately addressing weaknesses in task allocation, training and supervision. CHWs represent an important health resource, whose potential in extending coverage and providing a reasonable level of care to otherwise underserved populations must be fully tapped.
PIP: A collaborative research study of policy and practice in large, national community health worker (CHW) programs in developing countries was conducted. The report was based on a review of the literature, case studies in Botswana, Colombia and Sri Lanka, and an international workshop on the future of CHW programs. The objective of the study was to reexamine the implementation of national CHW programs, looking at policy, planning and management implications to suggest improvements. The chief findings were poor initial planning, unrealistic expectations of the workers, difficulties in maintaining quality and problems of sustainability. National CHW programs have suffered from conceptual and implementation problems. With political will, however, governments can adopt more flexible approaches by planning CHW programs within the context of overall health sector activities, rather than as a separate activity. Weaknesses in training, task allocation and supervision need to addressed immediately. CHWs represent an important health resource whose potential in providing and extending a reasonable level of health care to undeserved populations must be fully tapped.