As low- and middle-income countries face continued shortages of human resources for health and the double burden of infectious and chronic diseases, there is renewed international interest in the potential for community health workers (CHWs) to take on a growing role in strengthening health systems. Health surveillance assistants (HSAs) — as the CHW cadre in Zomba District, Malawi is known — play a vital role by connecting the community with the formal health care sector. The latest research from the Africa Initiative provides a situational analysis of the HSA cadre and its contribution to the delivery of health services in Malawi. The authors’findings show that HSAs face numerous challenges related to training, as well as challenges in defining their roles and those of their supervisors. They conclude with recommendations to improve HSA training and policy, with the ultimate goal of improving the effectiveness of this cadre of worker, and improving the health of the population. 

The Africa Initiative Discussion Paper Series presents policy-relevant, peer-reviewed, field-based research that addresses substantive issues in the areas of conflict resolution, energy, food security, health, migration and climate change. The aim of the series is to promote discussion and advance knowledge on issues relevant to policy makers and opinion leaders in Africa. Papers in this series are written by experienced African and Canadian researchers, and have gone through the grant review process, or, in select cases, are commissioned studies supported by the Africa Initiative research program.