Ability to manage diabetes – community health workers’ knowledge, attitudes and beliefs

15 Nov 2011

BACKGROUND: Diabetes constitutes a significant health problem in South Africa. Early detection and good management can prevent or delay complications, with national guidelines for diabetes treatment now available to facilitate this. However, problems are being encountered with their implementation and there is evidence that preventive care is still inadequate in South Africa. Community health workers (CHWs) are lay personnel employed to serve as a link between professional health care staff and the community. They visit homes and can be a powerful force for diabetes prevention and adherence to treatment regimens, given appropriate knowledge. METHOD: We conducted a study to evaluate the knowledge, beliefs and attitudes of a group of CHWs serving a poor urban area, using focus groups and personal interviews. RESULTS: The CHWs did not have the requisite knowledge, attitudes and beliefs to make a positive impact on prevention and management of diabetes. For example, they cited eating sugar as a cause of diabetes. They advised folk remedies that purportedly diluted the blood sugar. Their patients took prescribed medication irregularly. Obesity was not considered an important risk factor. Poverty, however, was recognised as an obstacle to proper treatment. CONCLUSION: Training is clearly needed to empower the CHWs with skills to work within their communities to identify risk factors for diabetes and other non-communicable diseases, with emphasis on diet and physical activity.