Challenges and prospects for implementation of community health volunteers’ digital health solutions in Kenya: A qualitative study

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Background: The value of digital health technologies in delivering vital health care interventions, especially in low resource settings is increasingly appreciated. We co-developed and tested a decision support mobile health (m-Health) application (app);with some of the forms used by Community Health Volunteers (CHVs) in Kenya to collect data and connected to health facilities. This paper explores the experiences of CHVs, health workers and members of Sub-County Health Management Teams following implementation of the project. Methods: Data were collected in December 2017 through in-depth interviews and focus group discussions with CHVs and key informant interviews with health care workers and health managers in Kamukunji sub-County of Nairobi, Kenya. Data coding and analysis was performed in NVivo 12. Results: Regarding users and health managers’ perceptions towards the system; three main themes were identified: 1) variations in use, 2) barriers to use and 3) recommendations to improve use. Health workers at the private facility and some CHVs used the system more than health workers at the public facilities. Four sub-themes under barriers to use were socio-political environment, attitudes and behaviour, issues related to the system and poor infrastructure. A prolonged health workers’ strike, the contentious presidential election in the year of implementation, interrupted electricity supply and lack of basic electric fixtures were major barriers to use. Suggestions to improve usage were: 1) integration of the system with others in use and making it available on users’ regular phones, and 2) explore sustainable motivation models to users as well as performance based remuneration. Conclusions: The findings reveal the importance of considering the readiness of information and communication technologies (ICT) users before rollout of ICT solutions. The political and sociocultural environment in which the innovation is to be implemented and integration of new solutions into existing ones is critical for success. As more healthcare delivery models are developed, harnessing the potential of digital technologies, strengthening health systems is critical as this provides the backbone on which such innovations draw support.