Can Formalizing Links among Community Health Workers, Accredited Drug Dispensing Outlet Dispensers, and Health Facility Staff Increase Their Collaboration to Improve Prompt Access to Maternal and Child Care? A Qualitative Study in Tanzania
Background: In Tanzania, progress toward achieving the 2015 Millennium Development Goals for maternal and newborn health was slow. An intervention brought together community health workers, health facility staff, and accredited drug dispensing outlet (ADDO) dispensers to improve maternal and newborn health through a mechanism of collaboration and referral. This study explored barriers, successes, and promising approaches to increasing timely access to care by linking the three levels of health care provision.
Methods: The study was conducted in the Kibaha district, where we applied qualitative approaches with in-depth interviews and focus group discussions. In-depth interview participants included retail drug shop dispensers (36), community health workers (45), and health facility staff members (15). We conducted one focus group discussion with district officials and four with mothers of newborns and children under 5 years old.
Results: Relationships among the three levels of care improved after the linkage intervention, especially for ADDO dispensers and health facility staff who previously had no formal communication pathway. The study participants' perceptions of success included improved knowledge of case management and relationships among the three levels of care, more timely access to care, increased numbers of patients/customers, more meetings between community health workers and health facility staff, and a decrease in child and maternal mortality. Reported challenges included stock-outs of medicines at the health facility, participating ADDO dispensers who left to work in other regions, documentation of referrals, and lack of treatment available at health facilities on the weekend. The primary issue that threatens the sustainability of the intervention is that local council health management team members, who are responsible for facilitating the linkage, had not made any supervision visits and were therefore unaware of how the program was running.
Conclusion: The study highlights the benefits of approaches that link different levels of care providers to improve access to maternal and child health care. To strengthen this collaboration further, health campaign platforms should include retail drug dispensers as a type of community health care provider. To increase linkage sustainability, the council health management team needs to develop feasible supervision plans.