Caribbean community health workers managing more NCDs

We are excited to announce the start of a new project with PAHO, supporting community health workers in 15 Caribbean countries to deal with the growing cases of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) there. After identifying the specific needs, and bringing in learning from other settings, we will be developing a new online course to equip community healthworkers to diagnose and manage NCDs as part of multi-disciplinary primary care teams.

NCDs in the Caribbean

As highlighted in a new publication from PAHO, NCDs account for over 80% of all deaths in the Americas – with the Caribbean countries showing the highest rates in the region. Diabetes prevalence is double that of global rates and there are high rates of undiagnosed chronic diseases. And the Covid-19 pandemic has only made the situation worse.

In response, PAHO is working on the prevention and management of NCDs across the Americas. This new project in the eastern Caribbean region responds to one of the recommendations in this PAHO publication: the need for community health workers to play a bigger role when it comes to NCDs – and focuses on supporting this group of healthworkers to contribute as a key part of the primary care team.

Why community health workers?

NCDs are usually best managed within integrated primary healthcare, taking a person-centred approach to care. Community health workers are often best placed able to reach their local communities and their role in the health workforce, as part of a multi-disciplinary primary care team, is crucial for promoting health and wellbeing at the community level, coordinating with community organisations and linking with health centres. 

Many Caribbean countries – and beyond – have redeployed primary care health professionals to secondary care facilities due to Covid-19, stretching the workforce further and affecting the delivery of services for primary care of NCDs. There is significant potential to strengthen the role of community health workers, particularly in NCD care, by upskilling them to work in partnership with primary care clinicians.

At PCI we have already worked with community health workers, particularly through our cascade training approach, and it’s exciting to be developing this very targeted learning for the Caribbean context.

Tailored learning

The project team will work with partners in the Caribbean to determine the appropriate mix of skills and competencies that will best equip community health workers in the region to contribute to tackling NCDs.

This will then direct us to design an online in-service training programme to meet the identified needs and appropriate for the Caribbean context. There will be at least one module for each of the major NCDs – cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, chronic respiratory diseases and cancer, as well as a number of live workshops where participants will be able to share their own existing knowledge and experiences and learn from each other.

This project is an opportunity to put into practice our multi-directional approach to learning as we bring in experiences from our diverse group of Clinical Associates and review existing models of community health worker support from Brazil to Zambia.

Continued partnership in the Caribbean

PCI has already worked on a number of projects with PAHO in the region: in St Vincent and the Grenadines to support best use of WHO’s NCD Emergency Kits in the aftermath of the volcano there, in Sint Eustatius on a NCD primary prevention / community wellness programme and in Sint Maarten on the adaptation of PAHO’s Hearts in the America’s programme as a common framework for heart disease risk reduction. We are delighted to continue our partnership with this new project: ensuring that communities can have access to the quality healthcare they need.