Journal Article

Examining roles, support, and experiences of community health workers during the COVID-19 pandemic in Bangladesh: A mixed methods study

Introduction
Understanding community health workers’ (CHWs) experiences of sustaining routine health care promotion and provision activities as well as their challenges in adopting new responsibilities within a dynamic context is critical. This study explored the roles and perspectives of CHWs within the government-led coronavirus disease (COVID-19) community health response in Bangladesh.

Methods
We conducted a mixed methods study to explore the government’s response to COVID-19 and its association with community health programming through a telephone-based survey of 370 government-employed CHWs. We also conducted 28 in-depth interviews with policy makers, program managers, CHW supervisors, and CHWs. We conducted exploratory and regression analysis of survey data and qualitative analysis of interview data.

Results
The majority of CHWs reported receiving training related to COVID-19, including community-based prevention strategies from government and nongovernment stakeholders. Access to infection prevention supplies differed significantly by CHW cadre, and perspectives on the provision of adequate supplies varied qualitatively. CHWs reported slight decreases in routine work across all health areas early in the pandemic, and a majority reported added COVID-19-related responsibilities as the pandemic continued, including advising on signs/symptoms in their communities and referring suspected cases of COVID-19 for advanced facility care. Regression analyses showed that government support and integration of CHWs into their response—particularly being trained on COVID-19—predicted CHW capacity to advise communities on symptoms and provide routine services.

Discussion
Government-employed CHWs in Bangladesh continued to provide health education and routine services in their communities despite pandemic- and response-related challenges. Varied support and differential CHW cadre-specific effects on COVID-19 awareness building in the community, referral, and routine service provision merit attention in Bangladesh’s pluralistic community health system. While COVID-19 infection and government-mandated lockdowns restricted CHW mobility, the workers’ capacity to continue service provision and education can be leveraged in vaccination and surveillance efforts moving forward.