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Community health workers and health equity in low- and middle-income countries: systematic review and recommendations for policy and practice

Ahmed, Sonia and Chase, Liana E. and Wagnild, Janelle and Akhter, Nasima and Sturridge, Scarlett and Clarke, Andrew and Chowdhary, Pari and Mukami, Diana and Kasim, Adetayo and Hampshire, Kate (2022) 'Community health workers and health equity in low- and middle-income countries: systematic review and recommendations for policy and practice.', International Journal for Equity in Health, 21 (1). p. 49.

Abstract

Background: The deployment of Community Health Workers (CHWs) is widely promoted as a strategy for reducing health inequities in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC). Yet there is limited evidence on whether and how CHW programmes achieve this. This systematic review aimed to synthesise research findings on the following questions: (1) How effective are CHW interventions at reaching the most disadvantaged groups in LMIC contexts? and (2) What evidence exists on whether and how these programmes reduce health inequities in the populations they serve? Methods: We searched six academic databases for recent (2014–2020) studies reporting on CHW programme access, utilisation, quality, and effects on health outcomes/behaviours in relation to potential stratifiers of health opportunities and outcomes (e.g., gender, socioeconomic status, place of residence). Quantitative data were extracted, tabulated, and subjected to meta-analysis where appropriate. Qualitative findings were synthesised using thematic analysis. Results: One hundred sixty-seven studies met the search criteria, reporting on CHW interventions in 33 LMIC. Quantitative synthesis showed that CHW programmes successfully reach many (although not all) marginalized groups, but that health inequalities often persist in the populations they serve. Qualitative findings suggest that disadvantaged groups experienced barriers to taking up CHW health advice and referrals and point to a range of strategies for improving the reach and impact of CHW programmes in these groups. Ensuring fair working conditions for CHWs and expanding opportunities for advocacy were also revealed as being important for bridging health equity gaps. Conclusion: In order to optimise the equity impacts of CHW programmes, we need to move beyond seeing CHWs as a temporary sticking plaster, and instead build meaningful partnerships between CHWs, communities and policy-makers to confront and address the underlying structures of inequity. Trial registration: PROSPERO registration number CRD42020177333.

Item Type:Article
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Status:Peer-reviewed
Publisher Web site:https://doi.org/10.1186/s12939-021-01615-y
Publisher statement:This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.
Date accepted:27 December 2021
Date deposited:20 April 2022
Date of first online publication:11 April 2022
Date first made open access:20 April 2022

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