Community health workers (CHW) are members of a community who are chosen by community members or organizations to provide basic health and medical care to their community. Other names for this type of health care provider include village health worker, community health aide, community health promoter, and lay health advisor.
In many developing countries, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, there are critical shortages of highly educated health professionals. Current medical and nursing schools cannot train enough workers to keep up with increasing demand for health care services, internal and external emigration of health workers, deaths from AIDS and other diseases, low workforce productivity, and population growth. Community health workers are given a limited amount of training, supplies and support to provide essential primary health care services to the population. Programs involving CHW in China, Brazil, Iran and Bangladesh have demonstrated that utilizing such workers can help improve health outcomes for large populations in under-served regions. “Task shifting” of primary care functions from professional health workers to community health workers is considered to be a means to make more efficient use of the human resources currently available and improving the health of millions at reasonable cost.