Hearing community voices: grassroots perceptions of an intervention to support health volunteers in South Africa
With the scarcity of African health professionals, volunteers are earmarked for an increased role in HIV/AIDS management, with a growing number of projects relying on grassroots community members to provide home nursing care to those with AIDS – as
part of the wider task-shifting agenda. Yet little is known about how best to facilitate such involvement. This paper reports on community perceptions of a 3-year project which sought to train and support volunteer health workers in a rural community in South Africa. Given the growing emphasis on involving community voices in project research, we conducted 17 discussions with 34 community members, including those involved and uninvolved in project activities – at the end of this 3-year period. These discussions aimed to elicit local people's perceptions of the project, its strengths and its weaknesses. Community members perceived
the project to have made various forms of positive progress in empowering volunteers to run a more effective home nursing service. However, discussions suggested that it was unlikely that these efforts would be sustainable in the long term, due to lack of support for
volunteers both within and outside of the community. We conclude that those seeking to increase the role and capacity of community volunteers in AIDS care need to make substantial efforts to ensure that appropriate support structures are in place. Chief among these are: sustainable stipends for volunteers; commitment from community leaders and volunteer team leaders to democratic ideals of project management; and substantial support from external agencies in the health, welfare and NGO sectors.
Keywords: Evaluation, home-based care, volunteers, task shifting, participation, stipends, leadership.
SAHARA-J Vol. 5 (4) 2008: pp. 162-177