BMJ Quality Blog: Improving the Quality of Data Collected by CHWs in Rural Malawi

The program was designed to complement and be integrated with a Ministry of Health national HIV care program. The addition of community health workers allows HIV care and treatment to reach Malawians living in remote areas where geography makes it exceedingly difficult for them to access care.

In this setting, community health workers provide a critical link between the community and the local health facility. They visit patients between medical appointments, ensuring medications are taken as prescribed, answering questions, and monitoring for medical and social complications that might hinder a patient’s successful treatment. They also refer and accompany patients to a health facility when necessary.

During their regular visits, community health workers (CHW) collect data on a paper household chart, developed by PIH/APZU and the Ministry of Health. Data about all members of the community are collected on the chart, aggregated by site supervisors, and entered into a database. The resulting data give PIH/APZU a rich window into the lives of the people we serve. The information allows managers and supervisors to identify people suffering from inadequate housing, food shortages, a lack of potable water, or to find communities where a lack of information and cultural barriers are preventing pregnant women from attending antenatal appointments.

But these uses of the household chart are only possible with quality data. Challenges with the quality of CHW-collected data have been well documented in settings of poverty. In Neno, informal assessments had already indicated that household chart data were of poor quality, which prevented PIH/APZU from using the information. Since CHWs knew the data they were collecting were not being used or even analyzed, they tended not to pay attention to securing complete and correct data. In addition, the staff responsible for aggregating household chart data saw the task as an unwelcome addition to their existing workloads, which led to inconsistent data quality checks and further reduced the usability of the data.

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About the authors:

Dr. Junior Bazile is a Haitian physician who received a medical degree in Haiti and obtained a master’s degree in public health from the University of Alabama at Birmingham under a Fulbright Scholarship. After several years working in Haiti and in Burundi, he is now working with Partners In Health in Malawi as the clinical director and community health director.

Henry Peter Makungwa is Malawian, and is currently the manager of the Village Health Worker program, overseeing all activities related to the household chart. He has been extensively trained in agriculture extension and holds a certificate in that field. After many years working with NGOs in the field, he joined PIH/APZU in 2008 and is one of the pioneers of the household chart program in Malawi.