Introduction: In 2018, South Africa’s National Department of Health provided additional resources for ward-based primary healthcare outreach teams (OT) with support from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. The intervention package included a new training curriculum, enhanced staffing, revised management and supervisory structures, and more intensive monitoring and evaluation (M&E). The goal was to strengthen OT and their impact on both primary healthcare and HIV-specific services. We conducted a process evaluation of this intervention package during its second year and examined implementation successes and challenges.
Methods: We conducted a mixed-methods evaluation at 20 purposively selected facilities in Bojanala and City of Tshwane districts, including surveys with 222 community health workers (CHWs) and outreach team leaders (OTLs); key informant interviews and online surveys with 28 policy and program stakeholders; 70 in-depth interviews with health facility staff; 20 focus group discussions with 194 CHWs; 20 structured health facility assessments; directly-observed time-motion studies; and review of program documents.
Results: Most participants highlighted the hiring and training of CHWs and OTLs as a key implementation success because this had partially alleviated staffing shortages and helped clarify CHWs’ and OTLs’ responsibilities and supervisory structures. The new monitoring tools were welcomed for their potential to improve data collection and program tracking. However, participants highlighted many program challenges: short-lived gains in CHWs’ knowledge and skills due to lack of ongoing training and mentoring; insufficient integration of OT into health facility management structures; persistent shortages of equipment, supplies, transportation, and workspace for CHWs; and insufficient remuneration for staff.
Conclusion: Strengthening and expanding CHW programs, such as OT, requires intensive support and continuous investments. To sustain improvements in training, supervision, and job satisfaction, CHWs must be equipped with needed resources, provided with ongoing supportive supervision, and strengthened by optimized program management, monitoring and processes.