Prevention of hypertension and diabetes in an urban setting in South Africa: Participatory action research with community health workers

10 Dec 2010

The project aimed to identify factors that contribute to hypertension and diabetes and to design and implement appropriate local interventions to prevent these non-communicable diseases and promote healthy lifestyles. This was a community-based participatory action research project in which researchers and community health workers (CHWs) were the main participants. The triple A approach to planning interventions was used, that is, the process of assessing the situation, analyzing the findings, and taking action based on this analysis. Both qualitative and quantitative methods were employed. Twenty-two CHWs working in site C, Khayelitsha, a deprived urban area of Cape Town, South Africa, participated in the study. Findings from the situational assessment indicated a lack of knowledge among CHWs and the community about hypertension and diabetes and the risk factors for these non-communicable diseases. Economic constraints and cultural beliefs and practices influenced the community’s food choices and participation in physical activity. On the basis of these findings, a training program was proposed that would provide CHWs with the skills to prevent hypertension and diabetes in their community. A program was developed and piloted by the project team. A health club that focuses on promoting healthy lifestyles is currently being piloted. This paper illustrates the unique involvement of CHWs in a successful participatory action research project on the prevention of hypertension and diabetes and promotion of health in a deprived urban setting. The project emphasizes the importance of involving local people in community-based initiatives to promote health and identifies that the primary role of health services is to develop appropriate skills in the local community, monitor activities, and facilitate a link with primary health services.