Community perceptions of community health worker effectiveness: Contributions to health behaviour change in an urban health district in South Africa


  • L S Thomas Gauteng Department of Health; School of Health Systems and Public Health, University of Pretoria; School of Public Health, University of the Witwatersrand, Gauteng, South Africa
  • Y Pillay Clinton Health Access Initiative, Pretoria, South Africa
  • E Buch School of Health Systems and Public Health, University of Pretoria and Colleges of Medicine, South Africa



Community perceptions, attitude, acceptance, support, community health worker


Background. Community health worker (CHW) programmes contribute towards strengthening adherence support, improving maternal and child health outcomes and providing support for social services. They play a valuable role in health behaviour change in vulnerable communities. Large-scale, comprehensive CHW programmes at health district level are part of a South African (SA) strategy to re-engineer primary healthcare and take health directly into communities and households, contributing to universal health coverage.

Objective. These CHW programmes across health districts were introduced in SA in 2010 - 11. Their overall purpose is to improve access to healthcare and encourage healthy behaviour in vulnerable communities, through community and family engagements, leading to less disease and better population health. Communities therefore need to accept and support these initiatives. There is, however, inadequate local evidence on community perceptions of the effectiveness of such programmes.

Methods. A cross-sectional descriptive study to determine community perceptions of the role and contributions of the CHW programme was conducted in the Ekurhuleni health district, an urban metropolis in SA. Members from 417 households supported by CHWs were interviewed in May 2019 by retired nurses used as fieldworkers. Frequencies and descriptive analyses were used to report on the main study outcomes of community acceptance and satisfaction.

Results. Nearly all the study households were poor and had at least one vulnerable member, either a child under 5, an elderly person, a pregnant woman or someone with a chronic condition. CHWs had supported these households for 2 years or longer. More than 90% of households were extremely satisfied with their CHW; they found it easy to talk to them within the privacy of their homes and to follow the health education and advice given by the CHWs. The community members highly rated care for chronic conditions (82%), indicated that children were healthier (41%) and had safer pregnancies (6%).

Conclusion. As important stakeholders in CHW programmes, exploring community acceptance, appreciation and support is critical in understanding the drivers of programme performance. Community acceptance of the CHWs in the Ekurhuleni health district was high. The perspective of the community was that the CHWs were quite effective. This was demonstrated when they reported changes in household behaviour with regard to improved access to care through early screening, referrals and improved management of chronic and other conditions.


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How to Cite

Thomas LS, Pillay Y, Buch E. Community perceptions of community health worker effectiveness: Contributions to health behaviour change in an urban health district in South Africa. S Afr Med J [Internet]. 2024 Feb. 13 [cited 2024 Jun. 15];114(2):e1334. Available from:

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