Realities and experiences of community health volunteers as agents for behaviour change: evidence from an informal urban settlement in Kisumu, Kenya
Background: Community health workers play an important role in health service delivery and are increasingly involved in behaviour change interventions, including for hygiene-related behaviour change. However, their role and capacity to deliver behaviour change interventions, particularly in high-density urban settlements, remain under-researched. This study examines the behaviour change-related activities of community health volunteers (CHVs)—community health workers affiliated with the Kenyan Ministry of Health—in a peri-urban settlement in Kenya, in order to assess their capabilities, opportunities to work effectively, and sources of motivation.
Methods: This mixed-methods study included a census of 16 CHVs who work in the study area. All CHVs participated in structured observations of their daily duties, structured questionnaires, in-depth interviews, and two focus group discussions. Structured data were analysed descriptively. Thematic content analysis was followed for qualitative data. Results were synthesized and interpreted using the capability, opportunity, motivation for behaviour change framework, COM-B.
Results: In addition to their responsibilities with the Ministry of Health, CHVs partnered with a range of non-governmental organizations engaged in health and development programming, often receiving small stipends from these organizations. CHVs reported employing a limited number of behaviour change techniques when interacting with community members at the household level. Capability: While supervision and support from the MOH was robust, CHV training was inconsistent and inadequate with regard to behaviour change and CHVs often lacked material resources necessary for their work. Opportunity: CHVs spent very little time with the households in their allocated catchment area. The number of households contacted per day was insufficient to reach all assigned households within a given month as required and the brief time spent with households limited the quality of engagement. Motivation: Lack of compensation was noted as a demotivating factor for CHVs. This was compounded by the challenging social environment and CHVs’ low motivation to encourage behaviour change in local communities.
Conclusions: In a complex urban environment, CHVs faced challenges that limited their capacity to be involved in behaviour change interventions. More resources, better coordination, and additional training in modern behaviour change approaches are needed to ensure their optimal performance in implementing health programmes.