What Is a Community Health Worker?

Community health workers (CHWs) are lay members of communities who work either for pay or as volunteers in association with the local health care system in both urban and rural environments and usually share ethnicity, language, socioeconomic status and life experiences with the community members they serve. They have been identified by many titles such as community health advisors, lay health advocates, “promotores(as),” outreach educators, community health representatives, peer health promoters, and peer health educators. CHWs offer interpretation and translation services, provide culturally appropriate health education and information, assist people in receiving the care they need, give informal counseling and guidance on health behaviors, advocate for individual and community health needs, and provide some direct services such as first aid and blood pressure screening. CHWs work in every state, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), whose estimates indicate there were around 120,000 CHWs nationwide as of 2005. This was an increase of 41 percent, from 85,879 CHWs in 2000.1

CHWs are more commonly found in other countries. In Africa, Brazil and Iran, for instance, CHWs provide a critical link to health care in underserved communities; training varies by country. CHWs can help deliver babies, or offer vaccinations and limited medical evaluations or treatment. They are credited in those countries with lowering infant mortality rates and deaths from preventable conditions such as diarrhea.2

Sources:

  1. Community Health Worker National Workforce Study (Health Resources and Services Administration, 2007)
  2. Community Health Workers, A History. Collins Center for Public Policy. (no longer available online)

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