Developing lay health worker policy in South Africa : a qualitative study

Daniels, Karen ; Clarke, Marina ; Ringsberg, Karin C. (2012-03)

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Background Over the past half decade South Africa has been developing, implementing and redeveloping its Lay Health Worker (LHW) policies. Research during this period has highlighted challenges with LHW programme implementation. These challenges have included an increased burden of care for female LHWs. The aim of this study was to explore contemporary LHW policy development processes and the extent to which issues of gender are taken up within this process. Methods The study adopted a qualitative approach to exploring policy development from the perspective of policy actors. Eleven policy actors (policy makers and policy commentators) were interviewed individually. Data from the interviews were analysed thematically. Results Considerations of LHW working conditions drove policy redevelopment. From the interviews it seems that gender as an issue never reached the policy making agenda. Although there was strong recognition that the working conditions of LHWs needed to be improved, poor working conditions were not necessarily seen as a gender concern. Our data suggests that in the process of defining the problem which the redeveloped policy had to address, gender was not included. There was no group or body who brought the issue of gender to the attention of policy developers. As such the issue of gender never entered the policy debates. These debates focused on whether it was appropriate to have LHWs, what LHW programme model should be adopted and whether or not LHWs should be incorporated into the formal health system. Conclusion LHW policy redevelopment focused on resolving issues of LHW working conditions through an active process involving many actors and strong debates. Within this process the issue of gender had no champion and never reached the LHW policy agenda. Future research may consider how to incorporate the voices of ordinary women into the policy making process.

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