Motivation of health surveillance assistants in Malawi: A qualitative study

  • Kingsley R. Chikaphupha
  • Maryse C. Kok
  • Lot Nyirenda
  • Ireen Namakhoma
  • Sally Theobald


Background: Motivation of health workers is a critical component of performance and is shaped by multiple factors. This study explored factors that influence motivation of health surveillance assistants (HSAs) in Malawi, with the aim of identifying interventions that can be applied to enhance motivation and performance of HSAs.

Methods: A qualitative study capturing the perspectives of purposively selected participants was conducted in two districts: Salima and Mchinji. Participants included HSAs, health managers, and various community members. Data were collected through focus group discussions (n = 16) and in-depth interviews (n = 44). The study sample was comprised of 112 women and 65 men. Qualitative data analysis was informed by existing frameworks on factors influencing health worker motivation.

Results: Our analysis identified five key themes shaping HSA motivation: salary, accommodation, human resource management, supplies and logistics, and community links. Each of these played out at different levels—individual, family, community, and organisational—with either positive or negative effects. Demotivating factors related primarily to the organisational level, while motivating factors were more often related to individual, family, and community levels. A lack of financial incentives and shortages of basic supplies and materials were key factors demotivating HSAs. Supervision was generally perceived as unsupportive, uncoordinated, and top-down. Most HSAs complained of heavy workload. Many HSAs felt further recognition and support from the Ministry of Health, and the development of a clear career pathway would improve their motivation.

Conclusions: Factors shaping motivation of HSAs are complex and multilayered; experiences at one level will impact other levels. Interventions are required to enhance HSA motivation, including strengthening the supervision system, developing career progression pathways, and ensuring clear and transparent incentives. HSAs have unique experiences, and there is need to hear and address these to better enable HSAs to cope with the challenging conditions they work in.


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1995-7262
print ISSN: 1995-7262