Community health workers (CHWs) have proven to be a powerful force for advancing health outcomes through the spirit of enterprise Read on

Community Health Workers: Filling Critical Gaps

Community health workers (CHWs) - also known as community health volunteers, village health workers, barefoot doctors or community health promoters - can play a more strategic role filling critical healthcare gaps. Typically female, para-skilled and community-oriented with the mobility and relationships to reach underserved populations, community health workers are uniquely positioned to reach the 55% of South Sudanese who live beyond walking distance to a clinic. Community health workers can effectively:

  • Extend the reach of existing health system into underserved communities that lack access to qualified health professionals
  • Improve access to necessary diagnostics, medication, health products and knowledge to prevent and treat leading causes of child and maternal mortality
  • Leverage local relationships and cultural knowledge to build relationships with households and support long-term family health

Watch this video to learn more about how Cape Breton University, BRAC and the Ministry of Health are working to reduce maternal and child mortality in South Sudan through research on Community Health Workers and social enterprise.

Celebrating the Community Health Worker

Explore how community health workers are expanding access to health products and leveraging mobile technology during a typical house visit:

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Visiting the Home

Journey inside the home during a community health worker visit and hear how CHWs are helping to improve health outcomes for mothers and children in South Sudan.

Journey Inside the Home

Cicilia Christoper shares her experience as a community health worker in South Sudan.

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Basket of Goods

Community health workers can combat limited access to hospitals and pharmacies by making basic medical supplies available to rural and peri-urban residents. When linked to a social enterprise model, the sale of such goods can also provide sustainable income to workers. Items in a CHW's sales basket provide:


  • Fortified staple foods
  • Vitamins


  • Contraceptives
  • Insecticide Treated Bed Nets
  • Water filters


  • Antimalarials
  • Oral Rehydration Solutions
  • Dewormers
  • Antifungals


  • Soap
  • Diapers
  • Feminine pads


  • Solar lanterns
  • Clean cook stoves


  • Education
  • Basic diagnosis
  • Breastfeeding and infant care
  • Referrals
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Mobile Technology

New mobile technologies are expanding possibilities for health-related diagnostics, data collection, education and financial transactions. From enhancing health workers' abilities to diagnose and treat patients, to improving communications between health providers and patients, we are in the early days of seeing a revolution in how low-cost "mHealth" solutions are serving geographically isolated communities.

Twelve Common mHealth and ICT Applications

As with any technologies, mHealth applications are most useful when they support existing, effective health systems, rather than being thought of as a panacea or quick technological fix to a complex problem.

mHealth (or "mobile health"): the delivery of healthcare services via mobile communication devices

Alain Labrique and colleagues have identified the 12 most common ways that mobile technologies like smart phones can be used to improve quality and access to health care by CHWs. Organizations actively tracking information on the evolution and effectiveness of mobile health technologies include mHealth Alliance, Global mHealth Initiative, mHealth Evidence, mHealth Knowledge and the mHealth Working Group.

Twelve Common Health & ICT Applications
1 Patient education & behaviour change communication (BCC) 7 Provider-to-provider communication
User groups, consultation
2 Sensors & point of care diagnostics 8 Provider work planning & scheduling
3 Registries / vital events tracking 9 Provider training & education
4 Data collection & reporting 10 Human resource management
5 Electronic health records 11 Supply chain management
6 Electronic decision support
Information, protocols, algorithms, checklists
12 Financial trans actions & incentives

Source: Illustration adapted from Labrique, A. B., Vasudevan, L., Kochi, E., Fabricant, R., & Mehl, G. (2013). mHealth innovations as health system strengthening tools: 12 common applications and a visual framework. Global Health: Science and Practice, 1(2), 160-171.