Empowering Field Workers for Healthier Communities in Bangladesh
For thousands of people living in rural Bangladesh, Health Assistants (HAs) and Family Welfare Assistants (FWAs)—collectively called field workers—are the first line of health care, and for many, the only cadre of health professional they have access to for health, population and nutrition (HPN) information and services. It therefore becomes very important that these field workers have the necessary skills and confidence to provide quality counseling services.
The Bangladesh Knowledge Management Initiative (BKMI) implemented an eHealth pilot whereby 300 field workers (150 HAs and 150 FWAs), mostly women, received netbook computers loaded with digital resources (brochures, flipcharts, videos, job aids, etc.) and eLearning courses to facilitate HPN counseling and also improve their own knowledge. The results are in, and knowledge levels for both FWs and mothers in communities increased dramatically across HPN during the short 3.5 month implementation period.
Just as important, and not a finding we necessarily expected, is that the netbooks empowered the field workers. During our routine monitoring, the research team conducted interviews with FWs and found that having the technology and a wealth of information at their fingertips made them feel proud, confident, and important. In fact, the elevated confidence observed from having the netbook actually changed how members of the community perceived them. Their improved social status resulted in more people seeking out HPN services from them.
The Government of Bangladesh’s placement of field workers throughout the country is recognized as the key reason the country has been so successful in its family planning efforts, benefiting from a drastic reduction in TFR from 6.3 in 1975 to now 2.3 (according to the 2011 Bangladesh DHS), and a much higher use of modern contraceptives (according to the Bangladesh DHS, CPR went from 8% in 1975 to about 58% today among married women).
Field Workers are extremely valuable and as program planners we should continue to find ways to motivate them and harness that sense of empowerment. We might not be able to supply netbooks to every field worker in the country, but as demonstrated with our eHealth pilot, their empowerment can translate to increasing health seeking behaviors in communities.
Stay tuned for our eHealth pilot results booklet.