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4 May 2020
Self-management training helping frontline workers to protect themselves against COVID-19

(Published - 4 May 2020)

Community health workers (CHWs) have been identified as key partners in the primary healthcare sector that is needed to combat the shortage of other health workers.

Prior to COVID-19, the focus of Levona’s PhD was on equipping CHWs to manage their own health and ensuring that they are role models when promoting health and the prevention of risky behaviour among their clients. Having completed her intervention programme as part of her PhD, her six-month follow up period coincided with the outbreak of COVID-19.

This presented her with a clear opportunity to explore how CHWs, as frontline workers in the community, were using the skills and knowledge of self-management to firstly protect themselves during this time, and secondly to create the awareness among communities about the importance of self-adherence to medication and protection during this crisis.

As the impact of COVID-19 extends and creates a new normal for all, the role of frontline workers like CHWs is essential. Self-management is now a common term in health education and a phrase used in many health promotion and patient education programmes. Self-management principles and skills entail problem-solving, decision making, the utilisation of resources, forming partnerships with healthcare providers, and finally, implementation.

Feedback from CHWs was that they were forming links with other health workers to discuss challenges and solutions daily. The silent stress of what they see as frontline work is a challenge, and finding opportunities to share with others is helpful. The learning curve provided by COVID-19 has provided them with the opportunity to problem solve and make decisions to help others in times of crisis. They have also availed themselves as a resource to educate communities about the virus.

Prof José Frantz says “the importance of this PhD at a time such as this is the essence of what we mean when we say we are making research count for the communities. The community health workers have been equipped, and although they are experiencing strain they are able to use the knowledge obtained to cope”.

Levona is a physiotherapist at a community health centre, and a frontline worker.

“I now understand the value of my PhD and can’t wait to roll the programme out more broadly. When I started this journey I did not realise the impact it would have on the community health workers”.

How can we benefit from the lessons learnt? One important characteristic of self-management skills is how one can apply them to oneself in different circumstances faced. As Levona’s PhD illustrates, self-management allows CHWs to apply skills in primary healthcare in real life situations, and with greater collaboration with other healthcare workers.