mPowering: Meeting the information and learning needs of Community Health Workers (2013-14)

Join the global discussion on HIFA

What HIFA members say about CHWs

From December 2013 to March 2014, mPowering Frontline Health Workers supported HIFA to hold an in-depth exploration on HIFA around the information and learning needs of Community Health Workers (CHWs), and how we can meet those needs more effectively and efficiently over the coming years. The key points are summarised here. The discussion has inspired the HIFA 2014 Challenge: Meeting the information and learning needs of Primary Health Workers (CHWs, nurses, midwives, doctors), with a particular focus on those working in professional isolation.


Community health workers are vital to deliver health education and life-saving interventions. They have undoubtedly made an important contribution to the major reductions in child and (to a lesser extent) maternal mortality over the past 10 years seen across middle- and low-income countries. Several countries, including Ethiopia, India and Brazil have supported massive expansion in CHWs, and there is global consensus that further expansion is needed worldwide, in addition to higher-level cadres such as doctors, nurses and midwives.

Currently the information and learning needs of CHWs are met largely through materials produced in parallel by multiple actors – ministries of health, CHW trainers, individual NGOs and INGOs, and key organisations such as Hesperian Health Guides (publisher of Where There is No Doctor). There is clearly massive duplication and wasted effort.

The following definition of CHWs is widely accepted: “Any health worker carrying out functions related to health care delivery; trained in some way in the context of the intervention; and having no formal professional or paraprofessional certificated or degreed tertiary education.” (Lewin et al 2005)


1. What can be done better to meet the health information needs of CHWs so that they are empowered to learn, to assess and manage correctly, and to save lives?

2. Is there a role for a central, open-access web resource of core CHW resources in different languages, which may then be adapted, further translated and re-used for different local contexts and different formats such as mobile devices – phones and tablets – as well as available as print-based resources?

3. Indeed, is there a case for standardization of content, so that all CHWs work to the same curriculum? By that we mean, is it possible to define a “minimum package” of information and skills that *every* CHW should have in order to address common health issues in their community? Could a common curriculum make it easier for NGOs and ministries of health to coordinate and to evaluate programmes more effectively?

CHW Special Meeting, Washington DC, USA, 12 December 2013

These questions are the focus on a special meeting in Washington DC on 12th December, which will bring together organizations such as Intel, UNICEF, Qualcomm, Praekelt Foundation, Hesperian, Nethope, Khan Academy and others.

We need your experience, expertise, ideas and reactions on the above questions. Your contributions will be synthesised and presented at the Washington DC meeting, and a summary of the meeting will be fed back into the HIFA forum afterwards.

Please send any thoughts, comments, questions, contributions to:

We are especially keen to involve CHWs and CHW trainers in this discussion on HIFA. Join the discussion here!

Lesley-Anne Long, Global Director of mPowering Frontline Health Workers (mPowering) & Neil Pakenham-Walsh, HIFA Coordinator, 3 December 2013