By Christopher Lourenço, Director, Malaria, PSI
Community health workers (CHWs) are critical lifelines in their communities. Ensuring they have the training, support, and equipment they need is essential to keep their communities safe from malaria, especially in the hardest to reach contexts.
For example, in Mali, access to formal health services remains challenging, with four in ten people living several miles from the nearest health center, all without reliable transportation or access. In 2009, the Ministry of Health adopted a community health strategy to reach this population. The U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) Impact Malaria project, funded by USAID and led by PSI, supports the Ministry with CHW training and supervision to localize health services.
In 2022, 328 thousand malaria cases were recorded by CHWs); 6.5 thousand severe malaria cases were referred to health centers, according to the national health information system.
During that time, the PMI Impact Malaria project (IM) designed and supported two rounds of supportive supervision of 123 CHWs in their workplaces in the IM-supported regions of Kayes and Koulikoro. This included developing and digitizing a standardized supervision checklist; and developing a methodology for selecting which CHWs to visit. Once a long list of CHW sites had been determined as accessible to supervisors for a day trip (including security reasons), the supervisors telephoned the CHWs to check when they would be available to receive a visit [as being a CHW is not a full-time job, and certain times of the year they are busy with agricultural work (planting, harvesting) or supporting health campaigns like mosquito net distribution].
Supervisors directly observed how CHWs performed malaria rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) and administered artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT). They recorded CHW performance using the digitized checklist, interviewed community members, reviewed records, and provided on-the-spot coaching. They also interviewed the CHWs and tried to resolve challenges they expressed, including with resupply of commodities or equipment immediately or soon afterwards.
Beyond the observed interactions with patients, supervisors heard from community members that they were pleased that CHWs were able to provide essential malaria services in the community. And the data shows the impact.
In IM-supported areas of Mali, 36% of CHWs in the first round were competent in performing the RDT, which rose to 53% in the second. 24% of CHWs in the first round compared to 38% in the second were competent in the treatment of fever cases and pre-referral counseling. Between both rounds, availability of ACT increased from 80 percent to 90 percent.
Supportive supervision with interviews and observations at sites improved the basic competencies of CHWs between the first and second rounds, and additional rounds will help to understand the longer-term programmatic benefits.