In resource-constrained settings, Community Health Workers (CHWs) are the first point of contact between communities and the health system, as providers of maternal and newborn health services. However, little is known of the quality of community-based postnatal care (PNC). We assessed the content of PNC provided by CHWs and women’s experiences of care in two Kenyan counties.
We used a cross-sectional, mixed methods design to examine the quality of PNC services provided by CHWs. Trained observers attended PNC home visits to assess technical quality using a 25-item checklist covering four PNC domains: infant health warning signs, maternal health warning signs, essential newborn care, and breastfeeding. The observers completed an 8-item communication quality checklist. We conducted follow-up surveys with observed PNC clients to assess their experiences of care. Finally, we used in-depth interviews with CHWs and focus group discussions with observed PNC clients to understand the experiential quality of care.
Observations suggest shortcomings in the technical quality of PNC home visits. CHWs completed an average of 6.4 (standard deviation SD = 4.1) of the 25 PNC technical quality items. CHWs often lacked essential supplies, and only six percent carried all four of the CHW job aids and tools specified in the national guidelines for maternal health at community level. However, CHWs completed an average of 7.3 (SD = 1.1) of the 8 communication quality items, and most PNC clients (88%) reported being satisfied during follow-up interviews. Higher technical quality scores were associated with older mothers, better communication, longer visit duration, and CHWs who carried at least three job tools. CHWs expressed a strong sense of responsibility for care of their clients, while clients underscored how CHWs were trusted to maintain their clients’ confidentiality and were a valuable community resource.
This study identified gaps in the technical quality of CHW PNC practices, while also recognizing positive elements of experiential quality of care, including communication quality, and trusting relationships. This study also demonstrated the strength of the CHWs’ role in establishing linkages between the community and facilities, as long as the CHW are perceived as, and enabled to be, an integral part of the PHC network in Kenya.