Background: Community health workers (CHWs) play key roles in delivering health programmes in many countries worldwide. CHW programmes can improve coverage of maternal and child health services for the most disadvantaged and remote communities, leading to substantial benefits for mothers and children. However, there is limited evidence of effective mentoring and supervision approaches for CHWs.
Methods: This is a cluster randomised controlled trial to investigate the effectiveness of a continuous quality improvement (CQI) intervention amongst CHWs providing home-based education and support to pregnant women and mothers. Thirty CHW supervisors were randomly allocated to intervention (n = 15) and control (n = 15) arms. Four CHWs were randomly selected from those routinely supported by each supervisor (n = 60 per arm). In the intervention arm, these four CHWs and their supervisor formed a quality improvement team. Intervention CHWs received a 2-week training in WHO Community Case Management followed by CQI mentoring for 12 months (preceded by 3 months lead-in to establish QI processes). Baseline and follow-up surveys were conducted with mothers of infants <12 months old living in households served by participating CHWs.
Results: Interviews were conducted with 736 and 606 mothers at baseline and follow-up respectively; socio-demographic characteristics were similar in both study arms and at each time point. At follow-up, compared to mothers served by control CHWs, mothers served by intervention CHWs were more likely to have received a CHW visit during pregnancy (75.7 vs 29.0%, p < 0.0001) and the postnatal period (72.6 vs 30.3%, p < 0.0001). Intervention mothers had higher maternal and child health knowledge scores (49 vs 43%, p = 0.02) and reported higher exclusive breastfeeding rates to 6 weeks (76.7 vs 65.1%, p = 0.02). HIV-positive mothers served by intervention CHWs were more likely to have disclosed their HIV status to the CHW (78.7 vs 50.0%, p = 0.007). Uptake of facility-based interventions were not significantly different.
Conclusions: Improved training and CQI-based mentoring of CHWs can improve quantity and quality of CHW-mother interactions at household level, leading to improvements in mothers' knowledge and infant feeding practices.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.Gov NCT01774136.
Keywords: Breastfeeding; Child health; Community health worker; HIV; Maternal health; Quality improvement; South Africa.