Community health workers (CHWs) play a key role in delivering health services to the rural population. Increasing the effectiveness of CHWs is essential towards curbing child mortality (one of the MDGs), where over 7 million children die annually without seeing a doctor. The problem is that CHWs receive very little support from the formal health system, work with low quality tools, and have very little authority when it comes to input towards developing better solutions to improve their effectiveness.
Unicef, Save the Children, the MDG Health Alliance, Frog, and others and joined together to develop Backpack PLUS to address many of the day-to-day issues CHWs face. By applying a human centered design approach (in simple terms, this means going through an iterative process of conducting user research, developing a prototype followed by testing), they’ve developed an ecosystem of physical and digital products to encompass all the needs of various different archetypes of CHWs. All of it of course, is contained in a well designed backpack that opens up and can be spread out on a person’s lap.
They’ve identified 6 core issues in the current workflow of CHWs through interviews and observation (more detail can be found on their Phase 1 slides starting on page 23):
- Current tools and process meant to support CHWs are fragmented, often affecting effectiveness and undermining motivation.
- Storage and carrying solutions for tools and commodities aren’t ﬂexible enough and do not support CHW workﬂows
- Data that is currently generated by CHWs and other actors in the system is not consistent and seldom turned into useful information.
- CHWs are asked to cover an ever increasing variety of health domains, from iCCM to family planning and HIV prevention, not always properly supported by training and adequate tools.
- Current incentive programs - monetary or otherwise – often fall short of being perceived as making the difference in the lives of CHWs.
- Fragmented or inefficient supply chains can result in perceived lack of CHW support, and undermine the level of trust they need to be effective
Backpack PLUS is more than just a bag. It’s a product that addresses the needs and problems of CHWs, which, once widely adopted, will improve their efficiency and save more lives. Moving forward, the next steps in the project are to disclose associated costs, develop an effective distribution strategy of their product, and to continue to elicit feedback from CHWs. For more information, you can read the Backpack PLUS Phase 1 package here.
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