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From policy to practice: a qualitive study exploring the role of community health workers during the COVID-19 response in Sierra Leone

Kallon, Lansana Hassim, Raven, Joanna ORCID:, Wurie, Haja Ramatulai and Mansour, Wesam (2023) 'From policy to practice: a qualitive study exploring the role of community health workers during the COVID-19 response in Sierra Leone'. BMC Health Services Research, Vol 23, Issue 1.

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, community health workers (CHWs) were required to help their communities respond to the outbreak in Sierra Leone. The Government of Sierra Leone released a policy that provided an interim guidance on the specific role of CHWs during the pandemic including support required to maintain continuity of routine and essential services during the COVID-19 response. This study explores how CHWs adapted their roles during the COVID-19 pandemic in Sierra Leone and the support they received from families, communities, and the health system.

A qualitative exploratory study was conducted in two districts in Sierra Leone. We conducted eight key informant interviews with district and community level managers and leaders and four focus group discussions with CHWs. Thematic data analysis and synthesis were guided by the interim guidance released by the Government of Sierra Leone at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and supported by NVivo 11.

CHWs quickly took on COVID-19 frontline roles which included surveillance, contact tracing, social mobilization, and provision of psychosocial support. CHWs were trusted with these responsibilities as they were recognized as being knowledgeable about the community, were able to communicate effectively with community members and had experience of dealing with other outbreaks. Despite the release of the interim guidance aimed to optimize CHW contribution, motivate CHWs, ensure continuity of core and essential community-based services alongside COVID-19 services, CHWs faced many challenges in their work during the pandemic including heavy workload, low financial remuneration, lack of mental health support, and shortages of protective equipment, communication and transportation allowances. However, they were generally satisfied with the quality of the training and supervision they received. Support from families and communities was mixed, with some CHWs experiencing stigma and discrimination.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, CHWs played a critical role in Sierra Leone. Although, a policy was released by the government to guide their role during the crisis, it was not fully implemented. This resulted in CHWs being overworked and under supported. It is important that CHWs are provided with the necessary training, tools and support to take on their vital roles in managing health crises at the community level. Strengthening the capacity of CHWs will not only enhance pandemic response, but also lay the foundation for improved primary health care delivery and community resilience in the face of future health emergencies.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: WC Communicable Diseases > Virus Diseases > Viral Respiratory Tract Infections. Respirovirus Infections > WC 506 COVID-19
Faculty: Department: Clinical Sciences & International Health > International Public Health Department
Digital Object Identifer (DOI):
SWORD Depositor: JISC Pubrouter
Depositing User: JISC Pubrouter
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2023 10:07
Last Modified: 10 Nov 2023 10:07


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