Who is a community health worker? – a systematic review of definitions

Authors: Olaniran A, Smith H, Unkels R, Bar-Zeev S, and van den Broek N
Year: 2017
State: NatDoc: National Document
Website link: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5328349/
Publicly Available: Yes
Certification: CHW role scope of practice, Competencies
Evidence Generation: General other, White papers
Policy: General language around CHW WD
Workforce Development: General other (including mention of “employment practices”), Outreach campaigns to identify CHWs

Objective: To identify the common themes in the definitions and descriptions of CHWs that will aid delineation within this cadre and distinguish CHWs from other healthcare providers.

Results: We identified 119 papers that provided definitions of CHWs in 25 countries across 7 regions. The review shows CHWs as paraprofessionals or lay individuals with an in-depth understanding of the community culture and language, have received standardised job- related training of a shorter duration than health professionals, and their primary goal is to provide culturally appropriate health services to the community. CHWs can be categorised into three groups by education and pre-service training. These are lay health workers (individuals with little or no formal education who undergo a few days to a few weeks of informal training), level 1 paraprofessionals (individuals with some form of secondary educa- tion and subsequent informal training), and level 2 paraprofessionals (individuals with some form of secondary education and subsequent formal training lasting a few months to more than a year). Lay health workers tend to provide basic health services as unpaid volunteers while level 1 paraprofessionals often receive an allowance and level 2 paraprofessionals tend to be salaried.

Conclusions: This review provides a categorisation of CHWs that may be useful for health policy formulation, programme planning, and research.

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