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1.  Exploring the context in which different close-to-community sexual and reproductive health service providers operate in Bangladesh: a qualitative study 
A range of formal and informal close-to-community (CTC) health service providers operate in an increasingly urbanized Bangladesh. Informal CTC health service providers play a key role in Bangladesh’s pluralistic health system, yet the reasons for their popularity and their interactions with formal providers and the community are poorly understood. This paper aims to understand the factors shaping poor urban and rural women’s choice of service provider for their sexual and reproductive health (SRH)-related problems and the interrelationships between these providers and communities. Building this evidence base is important, as the number and range of CTC providers continue to expand in both urban slums and rural communities in Bangladesh. This has implications for policy and future programme interventions addressing the poor women’s SRH needs.
Data was generated through 24 in-depth interviews with menstrual regulation clients, 12 focus group discussions with married men and women in communities and 24 semi-structured interviews with formal and informal CTC SRH service providers. Data was collected between July and September 2013 from three urban slums and one rural site in Dhaka and Sylhet, Bangladesh. Atlas.ti software was used to manage data analysis and coding, and a thematic analysis was undertaken.
Poor women living in urban slums and rural areas visit a diverse range of CTC providers for SRH-related problems. Key factors influencing their choice of provider include the following: availability, accessibility, expenses and perceived quality of care, the latter being shaped by notions of trust, respect and familiarity. Informal providers are usually the first point of contact even for those clients who subsequently access SRH services from formal providers. Despite existing informal interactions between both types of providers and a shared understanding that this can be beneficial for clients, there is no effective link or partnership between these providers for referral, coordination and communication regarding SRH services.
Training informal CTC providers and developing strategies to enable better links and coordination between this community-embedded cadre and the formal health sector has the potential to reduce service cost and improve availability of quality SRH (and other) care at the community level.
PMCID: PMC4556024  PMID: 26323508
Close-to-community health service providers; Informal health service providers; Sexual and reproductive health; Menstrual regulation; Bangladesh
2.  Snap shots from a photo competition: what does it reveal about close-to-community providers, gender and power in health systems? 
In this commentary, we discuss a photography competition, launched during the summer of 2014, to explore the everyday stories of how gender plays out within health systems around the world. While no submission fees were charged nor financial awards involved, the winning entries were exhibited at the Global Symposium on Health Systems Research in Cape Town, South Africa, in October 2014, with credits to the photographers involved. Anyone who had an experience of, or interest in, gender and health systems was invited to participate. Underlying the aims of the photo competition was a recognition of the importance of participation of community members, health workers and other non-academics in our research engagement and in venues where their perspectives are often missing. The competition elicited participation from a range of stakeholders engaged in health systems: professional photographers, project managers, donors, researchers, activists and community members. In total, 54 photos were submitted by 29 participants from 15 different nationalities and country locations. We unpack what the photos suggest about gender and health systems and the pivotal role of community-level systems that support health, including that of close-to-community health providers. Three themes emerged: women active on the frontlines of service delivery and as primary unpaid carers, the visibility of men in gender and health systems and the inter-sectoral nature and intra-household dynamics of community health that embed close-to-community health providers. The question of who has the right to take and display images, under what contexts and for what purpose also permeated the photo competition. We reflect on how photos can be valuable representations of the worlds that we, health workers and health systems are embedded in. Photographs broaden our horizons by capturing and connecting us to subjects from afar in seemingly unmediated ways but also reflect the politics, values and subjectivities of the photographer. They represent stereotypes, but also showcase alternate realities of people and health systems, and thereby can engender further reflection and change. We conclude with thoughts about the place of photography in health systems research and practice in highlighting and potentially transforming how we look at and address close-to-community providers.
PMCID: PMC4556048  PMID: 26323604
Close-to-community providers; Health systems; Health services; Gender; Photography
3.  “The One Who Chases You Away Does Not Tell You Go”: Silent Refusals and Complex Power Relations in Research Consent Processes in Coastal Kenya 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(5):e0126671.
Consent processes have attracted significant research attention over the last decade, including in the global south. Although relevant studies suggest consent is a complex negotiated process involving multiple actors, most guidelines assume consent is a one-off encounter with a clear ‘yes’ or ‘no’ decision. In this paper we explore the concept of ‘silent refusals’, a situation where it is not clear whether potential participants want to join studies or those in studies want to withdraw from research, as they were not actively saying no. We draw on participant observation, in-depth interviews and group discussions conducted with a range of stakeholders in two large community based studies conducted by the KEMRI Wellcome Trust programme in coastal Kenya. We identified three broad inter-related rationales for silent refusals: 1) a strategy to avoid conflicts and safeguard relations within households, - for young women in particular—to appear to conform to the wishes of elders; 2) an approach to maintain friendly, appreciative and reciprocal relationships with fieldworkers, and the broader research programme; and 3) an effort to retain study benefits, either for individuals, whole households or wider communities. That refusals and underlying rationales were silent posed multiple dilemmas for fieldworkers, who are increasingly recognised to play a key interface role between researchers and communities in many settings. Silent refusals reflect and reinforce complex power relations embedded in decisions about research participation, with important implications for consent processes and broader research ethics practice. Fieldworkers need support to reflect upon and respond to the ethically charged environment they work in.
PMCID: PMC4433355  PMID: 25978465
4.  How does context influence performance of community health workers in low- and middle-income countries? Evidence from the literature 
Community health workers (CHWs) are increasingly recognized as an integral component of the health workforce needed to achieve public health goals in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Many factors intersect to influence CHW performance. A systematic review with a narrative analysis was conducted to identify contextual factors influencing performance of CHWs.
We searched six databases for quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-methods studies that included CHWs working in promotional, preventive or curative primary health care services in LMICs. We differentiated CHW performance outcome measures at two levels: CHW level and end-user level. Ninety-four studies met the inclusion criteria and were double read to extract data relevant to the context of CHW programmes. Thematic coding was conducted and evidence on five main categories of contextual factors influencing CHW performance was synthesized.
Few studies had the influence of contextual factors on CHW performance as their primary research focus. Contextual factors related to community (most prominently), economy, environment, and health system policy and practice were found to influence CHW performance. Socio-cultural factors (including gender norms and values and disease related stigma), safety and security and education and knowledge level of the target group were community factors that influenced CHW performance. Existence of a CHW policy, human resource policy legislation related to CHWs and political commitment were found to be influencing factors within the health system policy context. Health system practice factors included health service functionality, human resources provisions, level of decision-making, costs of health services, and the governance and coordination structure. All contextual factors can interact to shape CHW performance and affect the performance of CHW interventions or programmes.
Research on CHW programmes often does not capture or explicitly discuss the context in which CHW interventions take place. This synthesis situates and discusses the influence of context on CHW and programme performance. Future health policy and systems research should better address the complexity of contextual influences on programmes. This insight can help policy makers and programme managers to develop CHW interventions that adequately address and respond to context to optimise performance.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12961-015-0001-3) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4358881  PMID: 25890229
Community health workers; Context; Equity; Gender; Health beliefs and practices; Low- and middle-income countries; Performance; Policy; Review
5.  Patient and community experiences of tuberculosis diagnosis and care within a community-based intervention in Ethiopia: a qualitative study 
BMC Public Health  2015;15:187.
The Ethiopian TB control programme relies on passive case finding of TB cases. The predominantly rural-based population in Ethiopia has limited access to health facilities creating barriers to TB services. An intervention package aimed to bring TB diagnosis and treatment services closer to communities has been implemented through partnership with health extension workers (HEWs). They undertook advocacy, communication and social mobilization (ACSM) activities, identified symptomatic individuals, collected sputum, prepared smears and fixed slides at community level. Field supervisors supported HEWs by delivering smeared slides to the laboratory, feeding back results to the HEWs and following up smear-negative cases. Patients diagnosed with TB initiated treatment in the community, they were supported by supervisors and HEWs through the local health post. Case notification increased from 64 to 127/100,000 population/year.
This qualitative study assessed community members’ treatment seeking behaviour and their perceptions of the intervention. In-depth interviews (n=36) were undertaken with participants in six districts. Participants were clients of the community-based intervention, currently on TB treatment or those screened negative for TB. Transcripts were translated to English and a thematic analytical framework was developed guided by the different steps symptomatic individuals take within the intervention package. Coding was done and queries run using NVivo software.
Prior to the intervention many patients with chronic cough did not access TB services. Participants described difficulties they faced in accessing district level health facilities that required travel outside their communities. Giving sputum samples and receiving results from within their home communities was appreciated by all participants. The intervention had a high level of acceptability; particularly clear benefits emerged for poor women and men and those too weak to travel. Some participants appeared to prefer a diagnosis of TB, this is likely because receiving a negative smear microscopy result brought further uncertainty and necessitated seeking further investigation.
There is evidence rural populations with high levels of poverty, and in particular women, are at high risk of unmet health needs and undiagnosed TB. Embedding TB services within communities was an acceptable approach for vulnerable groups experiencing poor access to health facilities. In the Ethiopian context this approach can facilitate early diagnosis and improve treatment outcomes.
PMCID: PMC4349713  PMID: 25885789
Qualitative; TB; Community perspectives; Health extension workers; Close-to-community
6.  Negotiating multiple barriers: health workers’ access to counselling, testing and treatment in Malawi 
AIDS care  2010;22(0 1):68-76.
Malawi is facing a severe HIV and AIDS epidemic with an estimated 12% of its population living with the virus. Health workers are on the front lines of the HIV epidemic and they face the risk of HIV infection in both their personal and professional lives. This mixed method study aimed to explore the enablers and barriers to HIV counselling and testing and antiretroviral therapy by health workers in Malawi. After qualitative data were collected through in-depth interviews with health workers in the Mchinji and Nsanje districts, a survey questionnaire was constructed and administered to 906 health workers in eight districts in Malawi.
A majority (76%) of health workers surveyed reported having undergone HIV testing and counselling, of whom 74% reported repeat testing. A striking result of the study is that 22% of health workers reported testing after occupational exposure to HIV. The proportions of respondents reporting that they tested after experiencing symptoms, or self-testing for HIV were 11% each. The in-depth interviews and the survey revealed multiple challenges that health workers face to accessing HIV testing, counselling and treatment, including fear of a positive result, fear of stigma and lack of confidentiality. Additional barriers included health workers’ personal acquaintance with those conducting testing, along with their perception of being “role models” which could exacerbate their fears about confidentiality. Given health workers’ critical role in HIV delivery in Malawi, there is need to develop solutions to help health workers overcome these barriers.
PMCID: PMC4260140  PMID: 20680862
health workers; Malawi; access; ART; counselling and testing
7.  Barriers to Completing TB Diagnosis in Yemen: Services Should Respond to Patients' Needs 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(9):e105194.
Objectives and Background
Obtaining a diagnosis of tuberculosis (TB) is a prerequisite for accessing specific treatment, yet one third of estimated new cases are missed worldwide by National Programmes. This study investigated economic, geographical, socio-cultural and health system factors hindering adults' attendance and completion of the TB diagnostic process in Yemen, to inform interventions designed to improve patient access to services.
The study employed a mixed methods design comprising a cross-sectional survey and In-Depth-Interviews (IDIs) and Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) among patients abandoning the diagnosis or registering for treatment. Adults with cough of ≥2 weeks attending a large governmental referral centre in Sana'a, Yemen, between 2009 and 2010, were eligible to participate.
497 and 446 (89.7%) participants were surveyed the first and second day of attending the services and 48 IDIs and 12 FGDs were also conducted. The majority of patients were disadvantaged and had poor literacy (61% illiterate), had travelled from rural areas (47%) and attended with companions (84%). Key barriers for attendance identified were clinic and transport costs (augmented by companions), distance from home, a preference for private services, strong social stigma and a lack of understanding of the diagnostic process. There were discrepancies between patient- and doctor-reported diagnosis and 46% of patients were unaware that TB treatment is free. Females faced more difficulties to attend than men. The laboratory practice of providing first-day negative smear results and making referrals to the private sector also discouraged patients from returning. Strategies to bring TB diagnostic services closer to communities and address the multiple barriers patients face to attend, will be important to increase access to TB diagnosis and care.
PMCID: PMC4170957  PMID: 25244396
8.  Fragile and conflict affected states: report from the Consultation on Collaboration for Applied Health Research and Delivery 
Conflict and Health  2014;8:15.
Fragile and Conflict Affected States present difficult contexts to achieve health system outcomes and are neglected in health systems research. This report presents key debates from the Consultation of the Collaboration for Applied Health Research and Delivery, Liverpool, June, 2014.
PMCID: PMC4167155
Fragile and conflict affected states; Health systems; Human resources; Collaboration
9.  Gender equity and sexual and reproductive health in Eastern and Southern Africa: a critical overview of the literature 
Global Health Action  2014;7:10.3402/gha.v7.23717.
Gender inequalities are important social determinants of health. We set out to critically review the literature relating to gender equity and sexual and reproductive health (SRH) in Eastern and Southern Africa with the aim of identifying priorities for action.
During November 2011, we identified studies relating to SRH and gender equity through a comprehensive literature search.
We found gender inequalities to be common across a range of health issues relating to SRH with women being particularly disadvantaged. Social and biological determinants combined to increase women's vulnerability to maternal mortality, HIV, and gender-based violence. Health systems significantly disadvantaged women in terms of access to care. Men fared worse in relation to HIV testing and care with social norms leading to men presenting later for treatment.
Gender inequity in SRH requires multiple complementary approaches to address the structural drivers of unequal health outcomes. These could include interventions that alter the structural environment in which ill-health is created. Interventions are required both within and beyond the health system.
PMCID: PMC4074359  PMID: 24972916
gender equity; sexual & reproductive health; Eastern and Southern Africa
10.  Factors Shaping Initial Decision-Making to Self-test Amongst Cohabiting Couples in Urban Blantyre, Malawi 
AIDS and Behavior  2014;18(Suppl 4):396-404.
In sub-Saharan Africa, most new HIV infections occur in stable relationships, making couples testing an important intervention for HIV prevention. We explored factors shaping the decision-making of cohabiting couples who opted to self-test in Blantyre, Malawi. Thirty-four self-tested participants (17 couples) were interviewed. Motivators for HIV self-testing (HIVST) emerged at three main levels. Individual motivations included perceived benefits of access to treatment, and self-checking of serostatus in the hope of having been cured by prolonged treatment or faith-healing. HIVST was considered convenient, confidential, reassuring and an enabling new way to test with one’s partner. Partnership motivations included both positive (mutual encouragement) and negative (suspected infidelity) aspects. For women, long-term health and togetherness were important goals that reinforced motivations for couples testing, whereas men often needed persuasion despite finding HIVST more flexible and less onerous than facility-based testing. Internal conflict prompted some partners to use HIVST as a way of disclosing their previously concealed HIV positive serostatus. Thus, the implementation of community-based HIVST should acknowledge and appropriately respond to decision-making processes within couples, which are shaped by gender roles and relationship dynamics.
PMCID: PMC4102820  PMID: 24929834
HIV self-testing; Couples; Decision-making; Gender; Malawi
11.  From Transmission to Transition: Lessons Learnt from the Thai Paediatric Antiretroviral Programme 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(6):e99061.
The Thai HIV programme is a leader in the public health approach to HIV treatment. Starting at transmission of HIV and ending with transition to adult services this paper assesses the paediatric HIV treatment continuum from three perspectives: service-user, provider and policy maker, to understand what works well and why.
A qualitative research design was used to assess and triangulate the stakeholder perspectives. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with ART service-users (n = 35), policy actors (n = 20); telephone interviews with prior caregivers of orphans (n = 10); and three focus group discussions with service-providers (hospital staff and volunteers) from a district, provincial and a university hospital.
Children accessing HIV care were often orphaned, cared for by elderly relatives and experiencing multiple vulnerabilities. Services were divided into three stages, 1. Diagnosis and linkage: Despite strong policies there were supply and demand-side gaps in the prevention of mother-to-child transmission ‘cascade’ preventing early diagnosis and/or treatment. 2. Maintenance on ART - Children did well on treatment; caregivers took adherence seriously and valued the quality of services. Drug resistance, adherence and psychosocial issues were important concerns from all perspectives. 3. Adolescents and transition: Adolescent service-users faced greater complexity in their physical and emotional lives for which providers lacked skills; transition from the security of paediatric clinic was a daunting prospect. Dedicated healthcare providers felt they struggled to deliver services that met service-users' diverse needs at all stages. Child- and adolescent-specific elements of HIV policy were considered low priority.
Using the notion of the continuum of care a number of strengths and weaknesses were identified. Features of paediatric services need to evolve alongside the changing needs of service users. Peer-support volunteers have potential to add continuity and support at all stages. It is critical that adolescents receive targeted support, particularly during transition to adult services.
PMCID: PMC4043947  PMID: 24893160
12.  Innovative Community-Based Approaches Doubled Tuberculosis Case Notification and Improve Treatment Outcome in Southern Ethiopia 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(5):e63174.
TB Control Programmes rely on passive case-finding to detect cases. TB notification remains low in Ethiopia despite major expansion of health services. Poor rural communities face many barriers to service access.
Methods and Findings
A community-based intervention package was implemented in Sidama zone, Ethiopia. The package included advocacy, training, engaging stakeholders and communities and active case-finding by female Health Extension Workers (HEWs) at village level. HEWs conducted house-to-house visits, identified individuals with a cough for two or more weeks, with or without other symptoms, collected sputum, prepared smears and supervised treatment. Supervisors transported smears for microscopy, started treatment, screened contacts and initiated Isoniazid preventive therapy (IPT) for children. Outcomes were compared with the pre-implementation period and a control zone. Qualitative research was conducted to understand community and provider perceptions and experiences.
HEWs screened 49,857 symptomatic individuals (60% women) from October 2010 to December 2011. 2,262 (4·5%) had smear-positive TB (53% women). Case notification increased from 64 to 127/100,000 population/year resulting in 5,090 PTB+ and 7,071 cases of all forms of TB. Of 8,005 contacts visited, 1,949 were symptomatic, 1,290 symptomatic were tested and 69 diagnosed with TB. 1,080 children received IPT. Treatment success for smear-positive TB increased from 77% to 93% and treatment default decreased from 11% to 3%. Service users and providers found the intervention package highly acceptable.
Community-based interventions made TB diagnostic and treatment services more accessible to the poor, women, elderly and children, doubling the notification rate and improving treatment outcome. This approach could improve TB diagnosis and treatment in other high burden settings.
PMCID: PMC3664633  PMID: 23723975
13.  Acceptability and Effectiveness of the Storekeeper-Based TB Referral System for TB Suspects in Sub-Districts of Lilongwe in Malawi 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(9):e39746.
Early access to tuberculosis diagnosis and treatment remains a challenge in developing countries. General use of informal providers such as storekeepers is common. The aim of this study was to determine the effectiveness and acceptability of a storekeeper-based referral system for TB suspects in urban settings of Lilongwe, Malawi.
The referral system intervention was implemented in two sub-districts. This was evaluated using a pre and post comparison as well as comparison with a third sub-district designated as the control. The intervention included training of storekeepers to detect and refer clients with chronic cough using predesigned referral letters along with monitoring and supervision. Data from a community based chronic cough survey and an audit of health centre records were used to measure its effectiveness. Focus group discussions and in-depth interviews were carried out to document acceptability of the intervention with the different stakeholders.
Following the intervention, the mean patient delay appeared lower in the intervention than comparison areas (2.14 weeks (SD 5.8) vs 8.8 weeks (SD 15.1)). However, after adjusting for confounding variables this difference was not significant (p = 0.07). After the intervention the proportion of the population diagnosed with smear positive TB in the intervention sites (1.2 per 1000) was significantly higher than in the comparison area (0.6 per 1000, p<0.01) even after adjusting for sex and age. Qualitative findings suggested that (a) the referral letters triggered health workers to ask patients to submit sputum for TB diagnosis (b) the approach may be sustainable as the referral role was linked to the livelihood of the storekeepers.
The study suggests that the referral system with storekeepers is sustainable and effective in increasing smear positive TB case notification. Studies that assess this approach for control of other diseases along with collection of specimens by storekeepers or similar providers are needed.
PMCID: PMC3433456  PMID: 22962575
14.  Transactional sex and HIV: understanding the gendered structural drivers of HIV in fishing communities in Southern Malawi 
In Southern Malawi, the fishing industry is highly gendered, with men carrying out the fishing and women processing, drying and selling the fish. Research has shown that individuals living in fishing communities in low-income countries are particularly vulnerable to HIV infection. One of the key drivers of HIV in fishing communities is transactional sex. In the fishing industry this takes the form of “fish-for-sex” networks where female fish traders exchange sex with fishermen for access to or more favourable prices of fish. By controlling the means of production, the power dynamics in these exchanges favour men and can make it more difficult for women to negotiate safe sex.
Qualitative methods were used to collect data on gendered drivers of transactional sex in the fishing community and how different groups perceive HIV risk in these transactions. Observation, focus group discussions and semi-structured interviews were undertaken with members of the fishing communities, including men and women directly and indirectly involved in fishing.
In fishing communities transactional sex was prevalent across a spectrum ranging from gift giving within relationships, to sex for fish exchanges, to sex worker encounters. Power differences between couples in transactional sexual encounters shape individual’s abilities to negotiate condom use (with women being at a particularly disadvantaged negotiating position). The context and motivations for transactional sex varied and was mediated by economic need and social position both of men and women. Female fish traders new to the industry and boat crew members who travelled for work and experienced difficult living conditions often engaged in transactional sex.
Transactional sex is common in Malawian fishing communities, with women particularly vulnerable in negotiations because of existing gendered power structures. Although knowledge and understanding of the HIV risk associated with transactional sex was common, this did not appear to result in the adoption of risk reduction strategies. This suggests that specially targeted strategies to increase women’s economic empowerment and tackle the structural drivers of women’s HIV risk could be important in fishing communities.
PMCID: PMC3499929  PMID: 22713352
transactional sex; gender power relations; fishing communities; HIV
16.  Operationalising sexual and reproductive health and rights in sub-Saharan Africa: constraints, dilemmas and strategies 
The continued poor sexual and reproductive health (SRH) outcomes in sub-Saharan Africa highlight the difficulties in reforming policies and laws, and implementing effective programmes. This paper uses one international and two national case studies to reflect on the challenges, dilemmas and strategies used in operationalising sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in different African contexts.
The international case study focuses on the progress made by African countries in implementing the African Union’s Maputo Plan of Action (for the Operationalisation of the Continental Policy Framework for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights) and the experiences of state and non-state stakeholders in this process. The case was developed from an evaluation report of the progress made by nine African countries in implementing the Plan of Action, qualitative interviews exploring stakeholders’ experiences and perceptions of the operationalisation of the plan (carried out as part of the evaluation) in Botswana and Nigeria, and authors’ reflections. The first national case study explores the processes involved in influencing Ghana’s Domestic Violence Act passed in 2007; developed from a review of scientific papers and organisational publications on the processes involved in influencing the Act, qualitative interview data and authors’ reflections. The second national case study examines the experiences with introducing the 2006 Sexual Offences Act in Kenya, and it is developed from organisational publications on the processes of enacting the Act and a review of media reports on the debates and passing of the Act.
Based on the three cases, we argue that prohibitive laws and governments’ reluctance to institute and implement comprehensive rights approaches to SRH, lack of political leadership and commitment to funding SRHR policies and programmes, and dominant negative cultural framing of women’s issues present the major obstacles to operationalising SRH rights. Analysis of successes points to the strategies for tackling these challenges, which include forming and working through strategic coalitions, employing strategic framing of SRHR issues to counter opposition and gain support, collaborating with government, and employing strategic opportunism.
The strategies identified show future pathways through which challenges to the realisation of SRHR in Africa can be tackled.
PMCID: PMC3287464  PMID: 22376197
17.  A qualitative exploration of the human resource policy implications of voluntary counselling and testing scale-up in Kenya: applying a model for policy analysis 
BMC Public Health  2011;11:812.
Kenya experienced rapid scale up of HIV testing and counselling services in government health services from 2001. We set out to examine the human resource policy implications of scaling up HIV testing and counselling in Kenya and to analyse the resultant policy against a recognised theoretical framework of health policy reform (policy analysis triangle).
Qualitative methods were used to gain in-depth insights from policy makers who shaped scale up. This included 22 in-depth interviews with Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) task force members, critical analysis of 53 sets of minutes and diary notes. We explore points of consensus and conflict amongst policymakers in Kenya and analyse this content to assess who favoured and resisted new policies, how scale up was achieved and the importance of the local context in which scale up occurred.
The scale up of VCT in Kenya had a number of human resource policy implications resulting from the introduction of lay counsellors and their authorisation to conduct rapid HIV testing using newly introduced rapid testing technologies. Our findings indicate that three key groups of actors were critical: laboratory professionals, counselling associations and the Ministry of Health. Strategic alliances between donors, NGOs and these three key groups underpinned the process. The process of reaching consensus required compromise and time commitment but was critical to a unified nationwide approach. Policies around quality assurance were integral in ensuring standardisation of content and approach.
The introduction and scale up of new health service initiatives such as HIV voluntary counselling and testing necessitates changes to existing health systems and modification of entrenched interests around professional counselling and laboratory testing. Our methodological approach enabled exploration of complexities of scale up of HIV testing and counselling in Kenya. We argue that a better understanding of the diverse actors, the context and the process, is required to mitigate risks and maximise impact.
PMCID: PMC3212939  PMID: 22008721
18.  LED Fluorescence Microscopy for the Diagnosis of Pulmonary Tuberculosis: A Multi-Country Cross-Sectional Evaluation 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(7):e1001057.
This study, nested within a clinical trial, by Luis Cuevas and colleagues finds that LED-FM microscopy has higher sensitivity but lower specificity than Zn microscopy for detecting tuberculosis in sputum samples.
The diagnosis of tuberculosis (TB) in resource-limited settings relies on Ziehl-Neelsen (ZN) smear microscopy. LED fluorescence microscopy (LED-FM) has many potential advantages over ZN smear microscopy, but requires evaluation in the field. The aim of this study was to assess the sensitivity/specificity of LED-FM for the diagnosis of pulmonary TB and whether its performance varies with the timing of specimen collection.
Methods and Findings
Adults with cough ≥2 wk were enrolled consecutively in Ethiopia, Nepal, Nigeria, and Yemen. Sputum specimens were examined by ZN smear microscopy and LED-FM and compared with culture as the reference standard. Specimens were collected using a spot-morning-spot (SMS) or spot-spot-morning (SSM) scheme to explore whether the collection of the first two smears at the health care facility (i.e., “on the spot”) the first day of consultation followed by a morning sample the next day (SSM) would identify similar numbers of smear-positive patients as smears collected via the SMS scheme (i.e., one on-the-spot-smear the first day, followed by a morning specimen collected at home and a second on-the-spot sample the second day). In total, 529 (21.6%) culture-positive and 1,826 (74.6%) culture-negative patients were enrolled, of which 1,156 (49%) submitted SSM specimens and 1,199 (51%) submitted SMS specimens. Single LED-FM smears had higher sensitivity but lower specificity than single ZN smears. Using two LED-FM or two ZN smears per patient was 72.8% (385/529, 95% CI 68.8%–76.5%) and 65.8% (348/529, 95% CI 61.6%–69.8%) sensitive (p<0.001) and 90.9% (1,660/1,826, 95% CI 89.5%–92.2%) and 98% (1,790/1,826, 95% CI 97.3%–98.6%) specific (p<0.001). Using three LED-FM or three ZN smears per patient was 77% (408/529, 95% CI 73.3%–80.6%) and 70.5% (373/529, 95% CI 66.4%–74.4%, p<0.001) sensitive and 88.1% (95% CI 86.5%–89.6%) and 96.5% (95% CI 96.8%–98.2%, p<0.001) specific. The sensitivity/specificity of ZN smear microscopy and LED-FM did not vary between SMS and SSM.
LED-FM had higher sensitivity but, in this study, lower specificity than ZN smear microscopy for diagnosis of pulmonary TB. Performance was independent of the scheme used for collecting specimens. The introduction of LED-FM needs to be accompanied by appropriate training, quality management, and monitoring of performance in the field.
Trial Registration
Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN53339491
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Tuberculosis is a global public health problem. Every year, about 1.7 million people die from this contagious bacterial infection, and about 9 million new cases occur, mainly in low- and middle-income countries. Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which causes tuberculosis, is spread in airborne droplets when people with the disease cough or sneeze, and usually infects the lungs (pulmonary tuberculosis). Symptoms of tuberculosis include a persistent cough, weight loss, and night sweats. Because tuberculosis is easily transmitted and potentially deadly, it is important that it is diagnosed quickly and accurately and immediately treated. The “gold standard” diagnostic test for tuberculosis is mycobacterial culture (in liquid or solid medium), in which laboratory technicians try to grow M. tuberculosis from sputum (mucus brought up from the lungs by coughing). However, this test is expensive, so most patients suspected of having pulmonary tuberculosis in resource-limited countries are investigated using sputum smear microscopy. In this cheaper but less sensitive test, sputum samples are “smeared” onto microscope slides, stained with Ziehl-Neelsen (ZN) dye, and then examined with a microscope for the presence of M. tuberculosis.
Why Was This Study Done?
With smear microscopy, multiple samples have to be examined to increase the test's sensitivity (the proportion of patients with culture-positive tuberculosis that the test detects). Because each smear examination takes up to 10 minutes, tuberculosis diagnosis with ZN smear microscopy creates a large laboratory workload. A variant form of smear microscopy—light-emitting-diode fluorescence microscopy (LED-FM)—could reduce this workload. With LED-FM, smears stained with a fluorescent dye can be examined in a quarter of the time it takes to examine ZN smears. In this study, the researchers evaluate the sensitivity and specificity (the proportion of people with a negative smear among people without tuberculosis; a high specificity indicates a low false-positive rate) of LED-FM using samples collected in a trial undertaken in four resource-limited countries (Ethiopia, Nepal, Nigeria, and Yemen) to investigate two schemes for sputum sample collection. In the spot-morning-spot (SMS) scheme, patients provide an on-the-spot specimen at their initial consultation, a specimen collected at home the next morning, and a second on-the-spot sample when they deliver their morning specimen. In the spot-spot-morning (SSM) scheme, patients provide two on-the-spot samples during their first clinic visit and a sample collected at home the next morning.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
In the main trial, the researchers collected sputum samples using the SMS or SSM scheme from 6,627 patients with a cough lasting more than two weeks. For their investigation of LED-FM, they examined nearly 2,400 samples (half SSM and half SMS specimens, about a quarter of which were tuberculosis culture-positive) with both ZN smear microscopy and LED-FM and determined the sensitivity and specificity of both tests—with one, two, or three sputum samples per patient—relative to mycobacterial solid culture. Single LED-FM smears had higher sensitivity but lower specificity than single ZN smears. The sensitivities of two LED-FM and two ZN smears were 72.8% and 65.8%, respectively; the specificities of these tests were 90.9% and 98.0%. The sensitivities of three LED-FM and three ZN smears were 77% and 70.5%, respectively; the specificities of these tests were 88.1% and 96.5%. The sensitivity and specificity of both tests was similar for samples collected using the SMS and the SSM schemes.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that in the resource-limited countries included in this trial, LED-FM has a higher sensitivity but lower specificity than ZN smear microscopy. The researchers calculate that in this study the accuracy of three LED-FM examinations was 85% (2,017 out of 2,355 patients were correctly classified as infected or uninfected), whereas the accuracy of three ZN smears was 91.8%. Thus, although LED-FM should identify more people with tuberculosis than ZN smear microscopy, because of its lower specificity, its use might also lead to more people without tuberculosis being needlessly treated for the disease. Nevertheless, provided that the introduction of LED-FM is accompanied by appropriate training and performance monitoring, LED-FM is an attractive potential tool for the laboratory diagnosis of tuberculosis that, together with a move towards the collection of two on-the-spot smears in a single clinic visit, could ensure that poor patients have access to timely tuberculosis diagnosis and prompt treatment.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
Details of the parent trial in which the samples used in this study were collected are available in a PLoS Medicine Research Article by Cuevas et al.
The World Health Organization provides information on all aspects of tuberculosis, including information on tuberculosis diagnostics; recent WHO policy statements on diagnosis of tuberculosis are available; the Stop TB Partnership provides information on global tuberculosis control (some information in several languages)
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information about tuberculosis, including information on the diagnosis of tuberculosis disease
The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases also has detailed information on all aspects of tuberculosis
MedlinePlus has links to further information about tuberculosis (in English and Spanish)
A new Web site dedicated to the discussion and optimization of smear microscopy has recently been launched
PMCID: PMC3134458  PMID: 21765809
19.  Using research to influence sexual and reproductive health practice and implementation in Sub-Saharan Africa: a case-study analysis 
Health Research Policy and Systems  2011;9(Suppl 1):S10.
Research institutions and donor organizations are giving growing attention to how research evidence is communicated to influence policy. In the area of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and HIV there is less weight given to understanding how evidence is successfully translated into practice. Policy issues in SRH can be controversial, influenced by political factors and shaped by context such as religion, ethnicity, gender and sexuality.
The case-studies presented in this paper analyse findings from SRH/HIV research programmes in sub-Saharan Africa: 1) Maternal syphilis screening in Ghana, 2) Legislative change for sexual violence survivors In Ghana, 3) Male circumcision policy in South Africa, and 4) Male circumcision policy in Tanzania. Our analysis draws on two frameworks, Sumner et al’s synthesis approach and Nutley’s research use continuum.
The analysis emphasises the relationships and communications involved in using research to influence policy and practice and recognises a distinction whereby practice is not necessarily influenced as a result of policy change – especially in SRH – where there are complex interactions between policy actors.
Both frameworks demonstrate how policy networks, partnership and advocacy are critical in shaping the extent to which research is used and the importance of on-going and continuous links between a range of actors to maximize research impact on policy uptake and implementation. The case-studies illustrate the importance of long-term engagement between researchers and policy makers and how to use evidence to develop policies which are sensitive to context: political, cultural and practical.
PMCID: PMC3121127  PMID: 21679377
20.  Strengthening the research to policy and practice interface: exploring strategies used by research organisations working on sexual and reproductive health and HIV/AIDS 
This commentary introduces the HARPS supplement on getting research into policy and practice in sexual and reproductive health (SRH). The papers in this supplement have been produced by the Sexual Health and HIV Evidence into Practice (SHHEP) collaboration of international research, practitioner and advocacy organizations based in research programmes funded by the UK Department for International Development.
The commentary describes the increasing interest from research and communication practitioners, policy makers and funders in expanding the impact of research on policy and practice. It notes the need for contextually embedded understanding of ways to engage multiple stakeholders in the politicized, sensitive and often contested arenas of sexual and reproductive health. The commentary then introduces the papers under their respective themes: (1) The theory and practice of research engagement (two global papers); (2) Applying policy analysis to explore the role of research evidence in SRH and HIV/AIDS policy (two papers with examples from Ghana, Malawi, Uganda and Zambia); (3) Strategies and methodologies for engagement (five papers on Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, Tanzania and Swaziland respectively); (4) Advocacy and engagement to influence attitudes on controversial elements of sexual health (two papers, Bangladesh and global); and (5) Institutional approaches to inter-sectoral engagement for action and strengthening research communications (two papers, Ghana and global).
The papers illustrate the many forms research impact can take in the field of sexual and reproductive health. This includes discursive changes through carving out legitimate spaces for public debate; content changes such as contributing to changing laws and practices, procedural changes such as influencing how data on SRH are collected, and behavioural changes through partnerships with civil society actors such as advocacy groups and journalists.
The contributions to this supplement provide a body of critical analysis of communication and engagement strategies across the spectrum of SRH and HIV/AIDS research through the testing of different models for the research-to-policy interface. They provide new insights on how researchers and communication specialists can respond to changing policy climates to create windows of opportunity for influence.
PMCID: PMC3121133  PMID: 21679383
21.  What shapes research impact on policy? Understanding research uptake in sexual and reproductive health policy processes in resource poor contexts 
Assessing the impact that research evidence has on policy is complex. It involves consideration of conceptual issues of what determines research impact and policy change. There are also a range of methodological issues relating to the question of attribution and the counter-factual. The dynamics of SRH, HIV and AIDS, like many policy arenas, are partly generic and partly issue- and context-specific. Against this background, this article reviews some of the main conceptualisations of research impact on policy, including generic determinants of research impact identified across a range of settings, as well as the specificities of SRH in particular. We find that there is scope for greater cross-fertilisation of concepts, models and experiences between public health researchers and political scientists working in international development and research impact evaluation. We identify aspects of the policy landscape and drivers of policy change commonly occurring across multiple sectors and studies to create a framework that researchers can use to examine the influences on research uptake in specific settings, in order to guide attempts to ensure uptake of their findings. This framework has the advantage that distinguishes between pre-existing factors influencing uptake and the ways in which researchers can actively influence the policy landscape and promote research uptake through their policy engagement actions and strategies. We apply this framework to examples from the case study papers in this supplement, with specific discussion about the dynamics of SRH policy processes in resource poor contexts. We conclude by highlighting the need for continued multi-sectoral work on understanding and measuring research uptake and for prospective approaches to receive greater attention from policy analysts.
PMCID: PMC3121134  PMID: 21679384
22.  Strategies and tensions in communicating research on sexual and reproductive health, HIV and AIDS: a qualitative study of the experiences of researchers and communications staff 
Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) and HIV issues are often controversial and neglected, leading to challenges with engaging policy actors. Research evidence is complex, posing further challenges for ensuring that policy and practice are evidence-based. Many health researchers are adopting innovative approaches to engaging stakeholders in their research, yet these experiences are not often shared. This qualitative study focuses on the research communication and policy influencing objectives, strategies and experiences of four research consortia working on SRH, HIV and AIDS.
We carried out 22 in-depth interviews with researchers and communications specialists (research actors) from the four consortia and their partners, working in nine countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Using the ‘framework’ approach to qualitative data analysis, we identified factors that affect the interaction of research evidence with policy and practice. We used the ODI RAPID analytical framework to present these results, adapting this tool by incorporating the actions, strategies and positionality of research actors.
The characteristics of researchers and their institutions, policy context, the multiplicity of actors, and the nature of the research evidence all play a role in policy influencing processes. Research actors perceived a trend towards increasingly intensive and varied communication approaches. Effective influencing strategies include making strategic alliances and coalitions and framing research evidence in ways that are most attractive to particular policy audiences. Tensions include the need to identify and avoid unnecessary communication or unintended impacts, challenges in assessing and attributing impact and the need for adequate resources and skills for communications work.
We contend that the adapted RAPID framework can serve as a tool for research actors to use in resolving these tensions, through facilitating a reflexive approach to considering their own combination of attributes, skills, networks and objectives and the ways these relate to policy contexts, actors and processes.
PMCID: PMC3121135  PMID: 21679385
23.  Indicators of sustainable capacity building for health research: analysis of four African case studies 
Despite substantial investment in health capacity building in developing countries, evaluations of capacity building effectiveness are scarce. By analysing projects in Africa that had successfully built sustainable capacity, we aimed to identify evidence that could indicate that capacity building was likely to be sustainable.
Four projects were selected as case studies using pre-determined criteria, including the achievement of sustainable capacity. By mapping the capacity building activities in each case study onto a framework previously used for evaluating health research capacity in Ghana, we were able to identify activities that were common to all projects. We used these activities to derive indicators which could be used in other projects to monitor progress towards building sustainable research capacity.
Indicators of sustainable capacity building increased in complexity as projects matured and included
- early engagement of stakeholders; explicit plans for scale up; strategies for influencing policies; quality assessments (awareness and experiential stages)
- improved resources; institutionalisation of activities; innovation (expansion stage)
- funding for core activities secured; management and decision-making led by southern partners (consolidation stage).
Projects became sustainable after a median of 66 months. The main challenges to achieving sustainability were high turnover of staff and stakeholders, and difficulties in embedding new activities into existing systems, securing funding and influencing policy development.
Our indicators of sustainable capacity building need to be tested prospectively in a variety of projects to assess their usefulness. For each project the evidence required to show that indicators have been achieved should evolve with the project and they should be determined prospectively in collaboration with stakeholders.
PMCID: PMC3078899  PMID: 21443780
24.  Yield of Smear Microscopy and Radiological Findings of Male and Female Patients with Tuberculosis in Abuja, Nigeria 
Objective. To describe the yield of smear-microscopy and radiological findings by male and female patients with symptoms of tuberculosis in Abuja, Nigeria. Methods. Patients ≥15 years old with cough for >3 weeks submitted 3 sputum samples for smear microscopy. One specimen was cultured using MGIT-960. All patients had lung X-rays and screened for HIV. Results. were more likely to be smear-positive than females (262/774 [34%] and 137/547 [25%], P < .01), but similar proportions of males and females were culture-positive (437/691 [63%] and 294/495 [59%], P = .09). 317/626 (50.6%) males and 249/419 (59.4%) females were HIV-positive (P < .005). Among culture-positives patients, HIV-infected males were less likely to have positive smears than HIV-negative males (49.2% versus 66%, P = .001). Among females, smear positivity did not vary with HIV (46.4% for HIV-positive and 52.9% for HIV-negative, P = .38). Of 274 culture-confirmed TB cases, 226 (82.5%) had cavities, and 271 (99%) had ≥1 lung areas affected. HIV-positive males were more likely to have lung cavities than HIV-positive females (85% versus 69%, P < .04) and to have ≥3 lung areas affected (P = .03). Conclusion. Differences in the yield of smear-microscopy, culture and X-rays on presentation are due to several factors including HIV coinfection and gender.
PMCID: PMC3335462  PMID: 22567256
25.  Prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV infection: Views and perceptions about swallowing nevirapine in rural Lilongwe, Malawi 
BMC Public Health  2010;10:354.
In 2006 the World Health Organization described the status of prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) service implementation as unacceptable, with an urgent need for a renewed public health approach to improve access. For PMTCT to be effective it needs to be accessible, acceptable and affordable; however research in Africa into accessibility, uptake and acceptability of PMTCT services has been predominately urban based and usually focusing on women who deliver in hospitals. The importance of involving other community members to strengthen both PMTCT uptake and adherence, and to support women emotionally, has been advocated. Urban men's and rural traditional birth attendants' (TBAs) involvement have improved uptake of HIV testing and of nevirapine.
A qualitative study was carried out in a rural district of Malawi's central region to explore the views about and perceptions of PMTCT antiretroviral treatment. Semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions were held with antenatal and postnatal women, fathers, grandmothers, TBAs, community leaders and PMTCT health workers.
Two broad themes of findings emerged: those that relate to the hospital PMTCT service, and those that relate to the community. Trust in the hospital was strong, but distance, transport costs and perceived harsh, threatening health worker attitudes were barriers to access. Grandmothers were perceived to have influence on the management of labour, unlike fathers, but both were suggested as key people to ensure that babies are brought to the hospital for nevirapine syrup. TBAs were seen as powerful, local, and important community members, but some as uneducated.
PMTCT was seen as a community issue in which more than the mother alone can be involved. To support access to PMTCT, especially for rural women, there is need for further innovation and implementation research on involving TBAs in some aspects of PMTCT services, and in negotiating with women which community members, if any, they would like to support them in ensuring that newborn babies receive nevirapine.
PMCID: PMC2910675  PMID: 20565930

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