A qualitative process evaluation of a community conversation intervention to reduce stigma related to lower limb lymphoedema in Northern Ethiopia
Abstract Background Lower limb lymphoedema (swelling of the lower leg) due to Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) such as podoconiosis, lymphatic filariasis and leprosy is common in Ethiopia, imposing huge burdens on affected individuals and communities. Stigma significantly increases the disease burden and acts as a major barrier to accessing lymphoedema care services. A multi-component stigma reduction intervention was implemented in Northern Ethiopia. Community Conversation (CC) was one of the components implemented, and aimed to reduce stigma and enhance access to and uptake of integrated lymphoedema care services with the active engagement of community members. Methods A cross-sectional qualitative process evaluation was conducted to document lessons focusing on CC’s relevance, outcomes and implementation challenges. Data were collected from a total of 55 purposively selected participants (26 from the CC intervention site and 29 from the control site) through key informant interviews, in-depth individual interviews and focus group discussions. Results Community Conversations increased acceptability of health messages about lymphoedema and created peer learning opportunities for unaffected community members. Improvement in the awareness of CC participants about the causes, prevention and treatment of lymphoedema contributed significantly to the reduction of stigmatizing attitudes and discriminatory behaviors, thereby improving access to and utilization of lymphoedema care services provided through primary health care facilities. However, a range of challenges affecting implementation of CC and outcome quality were identified, including perceived complexity of the facilitation guide among facilitators, expectation of incentives among CC participants, inadequate implementation of facilitation principles and procedures, inadequacy of supportive supervision, and low engagement of untrained health workers in CC. Conclusions With these challenges addressed, the implementation of CC integrated with other lymphoedema care services shows potential to reduce stigma and promote access to lymphoedema care services.