Facilitating Equitable Community-Level Access to Maternal Health Services: Exploring the Experiences of Rwanda’s Community Health Workers

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Scholarly level: 
Graduate student (PhD)
Final version published as: 

Tuyisenge, G., Crooks, V.A. & Berry, N.S. Facilitating equitable community-level access to maternal health services: exploring the experiences of Rwanda’s community health workers. Int J Equity Health 18, 181 (2019) DOI: 10.1186/s12939-019-1065-4

Date created: 
Maternal community health workers
Maternal health services
Middle and law income countries


In Rwanda, community health workers (CHWs) are an integral part of the health system. For maternal health, CHWs are involved in linking members of the communities in which they live to the formal health care system to address preventative, routine, and acute maternal care needs. Drawing on the findings from in-depth interviews with maternal health CHWs and observational insights in ten Rwandan districts, we identify specific strategies CHWs employ to provide equitable maternal care while operating in a low resource setting.


Using case study methodology approach, we conducted interviews with 22 maternal health CHWs to understand the nature of their roles in facilitating equitable access to maternal care in Rwanda at the community level. Interviews were conducted in five Rwandan districts. Participants shared their experiences of and perceptions on promoting equitable access to maternal health service in their communities.


Four key themes emerged during the analytic process that characterize the contexts and strategic ways in which maternal health CHWs facilitate equitable access to maternal care in an environment of resource scarcity. They are: 1) community building; 2) physical landscapes, which serve as barriers or facilitators both to women’s care access and CHWs’ equitable service provision; 3) the post-crisis socio-political environment in Rwanda, which highlights resilience and the need to promote maternal health subsequent to the genocide of 1994; and, 4) the strategies used by CHWs to circumvent the constraints of a resource-poor setting and provide equitable maternal health services at the community level.


Rwanda’s maternal CHWs are heavily responsible for promoting equitable access to maternal health services. Consequently, they may be required to use their own resources for their practice, which could jeopardize their own socio-economic welfare and capacity to meet the demands of their families. Considering the unpaid and untrained nature of this position, we highlight the factors that threaten the sustainability of CHWs’ role to facilitate equitable access to maternal care. These threats introduce turbulence into what is a relatively successful community-level health care initiative.