Michael Gichangi, Ernest Barassa, Edson Eliah, Susan Lewallen and Paul Courtright contributed equally to this work.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
KK designed and conducted the experiment, analysed data, and contributed to write up. MG, EB, and EE conducted the experiment, and reviewed the manuscript. SL designed the experiment, analysed data, and contributed to write up. PC designed the experiment, analysed data, and reviewed the manuscript.
Knowledge and skills of primary health care workers (PHCWs) in primary eye care have been demonstrated to be inadequate in several districts of Kenya, Malawi, and Tanzania. We tested whether enhanced supervision, focused on improving practical skills over two years, would raise the scores of these workers on a test of basic knowledge and skills.
This was a randomised controlled trial. All primary health care (PHC) facilities within two districts of each country were enrolled and randomly assigned by district (Kenya, Malawi) or by health care facility (Tanzania) to receive quarterly skills-based supervision by a district eye coordinator or to continue existing routine supervision. At baseline, a test of basic knowledge and skills in five key areas was administered to PHCWs, and visual acuity (VA) charts and working torches were provided. After two years the test was administered again. Changes in test scores were compared between the intervention (enhanced supervision) and the non-intervention (routine supervision) facilities.
All 137 facilities in the six districts were enrolled including 343 PHCWs. At baseline, no facility had a visual acuity chart and 18 (13%) had a working torch; the average total skills scores were 6.04 and 6.38 (maximum of 12) in the non-intervention and the intervention facilities, respectively. After two years, 16 intervention facilities (23.2%) had a visual acuity chart correctly placed and 19 (27.5%) had a working torch, compared to 4 (5.9%) and 6 (8.8%), respectively, in the routine supervision facilities. At the facility level, the change in overall test scores was +1.84 points in the intervention sites compared to +0.42 points in the non-intervention sites (p<0.001). Staff turnover included about 75% of the staff by the end of the study.
The improvements in the enhanced supervision facilities were very modest and of questionable clinical significance. The low impact of the intervention may be due to the high turnover of PHCWs or high absenteeism. A better understanding of the quality of eye care at PHC facilities and influencing factors are urgently needed before continuing to invest resources in the scale up of this model of task shifting in Africa.