Combating non-communicable diseases: Potentials and challenges for community health workers in a digital age, a narrative review of the literature

Document Type



Office of the Provost


The use of community health workers (CHWs) has been explored as a viable option to provide home health education, counselling and basic health care, notwithstanding their challenges in training and retention. In this manuscript, we review the evidence and discuss how the digitalization affects the CHWs programmes for tackling non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). We conducted a review of literature covering two databases: PubMED and Embase. A total of 97 articles were abstracted for full text review of which 26 are included in the analysis. Existing theories were used to construct a conceptual framework for understanding how digitalization affects the prospects of CHW programmes for NCDs. The results are divided into two themes: (1) the benefits of digitalization and (2) the challenges to the prospects of digitalization. We also conducted supplemental search in non-peer reviewed literature to identify and map the digital platforms currently in use in CHW programmes. We identified three benefits and three challenges of digitalization. Firstly, it will help improve the access and quality of services, notwithstanding its higher establishment and maintenance costs. Secondly, it will add efficiency in training and personnel management. Thirdly, it will leverage the use of data generated across grass-roots platforms to further research and evaluation. The challenges posed are related to funding, health literacy of CHWs and systemic challenges related to motivating CHWs. Several dozens of digital platforms were mapped, including mobile-based networking devices (used for behavioural change communication), Web-applications (used for contact tracking, reminder system, adherence tracing, data collection and decision support), videoconference (used for decision support) and mobile applications (used for reminder system, supervision, patients' management, hearing screening and tele-consultation). The digitalization efforts of CHW programmes are afflicted by many challenges, yet the rapid technological penetration and acceptability coupled with the gradual fall in costs constitute encouraging signals for the LMICs. Both CHWs interventions and digital technologies are not inexpensive, but they may provide better value for the money when applied at the right place and time.


This work was published before the author joined Aga Khan University.

Publication (Name of Journal)

Health Policy and Planning