A novel approach to frontline health worker support: a case study in increasing social power among private, fee-for-service birthing attendants in rural Bangladesh

  • Authors: Curry D Islam MA Sarker BK Laterra A Khandaker I.
  • Tags: Frontline health workers Agency Skilled birthing attendants Health workforce
  • Category: Frontline Health Worker Rural Bangladesh


Background Expanding the health workforce to increase the availability of skilled birth attendants (SBAs) presents an opportunity to expand the power and well-being of frontline health workers. The role of the SBA holds enormous potential to transform the relationship between women, birthing caregivers, and the broader health care delivery sys- tem. This paper will present a novel approach to the community-based skilled birth attendant (SBA) role, the Skilled Health Entrepreneur (SHE) program implemented in rural Sylhet District, Bangladesh. Case presentation The SHE model developed a public–private approach to developing and supporting a cadre of SBAs. The program focused on economic empowerment, skills building, and formal linkage to the health system for self-employed SBAs among women residents. The SHEs comprise a cadre of frontline health workers in remote, underserved areas with a stable strategy to earn adequate income and are likely to remain in practice in the area. The program design included capacity-building for the SHEs covering traditional techno-managerial training and super- vision in programmatic skills and for developing their entrepreneurial skills, professional confdence, and individual decision-making. The program supported women from the community who were social peers of their clients and long-term residents of the community in becoming recognized, respected health workers linked to the public system and securing their livelihood while improving quality and access to maternal health services. This paper will describe the SHE program’s design elements to enhance SHE empowerment in the context of discourse on social power and FLHWs. Conclusion The SHE model successfully established a private SBA cadre that improved birth outcomes and enhanced their social power and technical skills in challenging settings through the mainstream health system. Strengthening the agency, voice, and well-being of the SHEs has transformative potential. Designing SBA interven- tions that increase their power in their social context could expand their economic independence and reinforce positive gender and power norms in the community, addressing long-standing issues of poor remuneration, overbur- dened workloads, and poor retention. Witnessing the introduction of peer or near-peer women with well-respected, well-compensated roles among their neighbors can signifcantly expand the efectiveness of frontline health workers and ofer a model for other women in their own lives.