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Public health surveillance through community health workers: a scoping review of evidence from 25 low-income and middle-income countries.


Background: The last 3 years have witnessed global health challenges, ranging from the pandemics of COVID-19 and mpox (monkeypox) to the Ebola epidemic in Uganda. Public health surveillance is critical for preventing these outbreaks, yet surveillance systems in resource-constrained contexts struggle to provide timely disease reporting. Although community health workers (CHWs) support health systems in low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs), very little has been written about their role in supporting public health surveillance. This review identified the roles, impacts and challenges CHWs face in public health surveillance in 25 LMICs.

Methods: We conducted a scoping review guided by Arksey and O'Malley's framework. We exported 1,156 peer-reviewed records from Embase, Global Health and PubMed databases. After multiple screenings, 29 articles were included in the final review.

Results: CHWs significantly contribute to public health surveillance in LMICs including through contact tracing and patient visitation to control major infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, Ebola, neglected tropical diseases and COVID-19. Their public health surveillance roles typically fall into four main categories including community engagement; data gathering; screening, testing and treating; and health education and promotion. The use of CHWs in public health surveillance in LMICs has been impactful and often involves incorporation of various technologies leading to improved epidemic control and disease reporting. Nonetheless, use of CHWs can come with four main challenges including lack of education and training, lack of financial and other resources, logistical and infrastructural challenges as well as community engagement challenges.

Conclusion: CHWs are important stakeholders in surveillance because they are closer to communities than other healthcare workers. Further integration and training of CHWs in public health surveillance would improve public health surveillance because CHWs can provide health data on 'hard-to-reach' populations. CHWs' work in public health surveillance would also be greatly enhanced by infrastructural investments.

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Journal Article
Alhassan J
Wills O