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Diarrhoea is a leading cause of child death in Zambia. As elsewhere, the disease burden could be greatly reduced through caregiver uptake of existing prevention and treatment strategies. We recently reported the results of the Komboni Housewives intervention which tested a novel strategy employing motives including affiliation and disgust to improve caregiver practice of four diarrhoea control behaviours: exclusive breastfeeding; handwashing with soap; and correct preparation and use of oral rehydration salts (ORS) and zinc. The intervention was delivered via community events (women’s forums and road shows), at health clinics (group session) and via radio. A cluster randomised trial revealed that the intervention resulted in a small improvement in exclusive breastfeeding practices, but was only associated with small changes in the other behaviours in areas with greater intervention exposure. This paper reports the findings of the process evaluation that was conducted alongside the trial to investigate how factors associated with intervention delivery and receipt influenced caregiver uptake of the target behaviours.
Process data were collected from the eight peri-urban and rural intervention areas throughout the six-month implementation period and in all 16 clusters 4–6 weeks afterwards. Intervention implementation (fidelity, reach, dose delivered and recruitment strategies) and receipt (participant engagement and responses, and mediators) were explored through review of intervention activity logs, unannounced observation of intervention events, semi-structured interviews, focus groups with implementers and intervention recipients, and household surveys. Evaluation methods and analyses were guided by the intervention’s theory of change and the evaluation framework of Linnan and Steckler.
Intervention reach was lower than intended: 39% of the surveyed population reported attending one or more face-to-face intervention event, of whom only 11% attended two or more intervention events. The intervention was not equally feasible to deliver in all settings: fewer events took place in remote rural areas, and the intervention did not adequately penetrate communities in several peri-urban sites where the population density was high, the population was slightly higher socio-economic status, recruitment was challenging, and numerous alternative sources of entertainment existed. Adaptations made by the implementers affected the fidelity of implementation of messages for all target behaviours. Incorrect messages were consequently recalled by intervention recipients. Participants were most receptive to the novel disgust and skills-based interactive demonstrations targeting exclusive breastfeeding and ORS preparation respectively. However, initial disgust elicitation was not followed by a change in associated psychological mediators, and social norms were not measurably changed.
The lack of measured behaviour change was likely due to issues with both the intervention’s content and its delivery. Achieving high reach and intensity in community interventions delivered in diverse settings is challenging. Achieving high fidelity is also challenging when multiple behaviours are targeted for change. Further work using improved tools is needed to explore the use of subconscious motives in behaviour change interventions. To better uncover how and why interventions achieve their measured effects, process evaluations of complex interventions should develop and employ frameworks for investigation and interpretation that are structured around the intervention’s theory of change and the local context.
The study was registered as part of the larger trial on 5 March 2014 with ClinicalTrials.gov: NCT02081521.