Fastone M Goma, Gail Tomblin Murphy, Adrian MacKenzie, Selestine H Nzala contributed equally to this work.
The authors have no competing interests to declare.
FMG, GTM, AM, and SN led the conceptualization, data collection, interpretation of findings, writing and editing. ML led the engagement and communication with key stakeholders and decision-makers from MoH throughout the project and contributed to interpretation of findings, writing and editing. CMM contributed to the interpretation of findings, writing, and editing. AG contributed to data collection, interpretation of findings, writing, and editing. JR contributed to writing and editing. All authors have read and approved the final manuscript.
In response to Zambia’s critical human resources for health challenges, a number of strategies have been implemented to recruit and retain health workers in rural and remote areas. Prior to this study, the effectiveness of these strategies had not been investigated. The purpose of this study was to determine the impacts of the various health worker retention strategies on health workers in two rural districts of Zambia.
Using a modified outcome mapping approach, cross-sectional qualitative and quantitative data were collected from health workers and other stakeholders through focus group discussions and individual interview questionnaires and were supplemented by administrative data. Key themes emerging from qualitative data were identified from transcripts using thematic analysis. Quantitative data were analyzed descriptively as well as by regression modelling. In the latter, the degree to which variation in health workers’ self-reported job satisfaction, likelihood of leaving, and frequency of considering leaving, were modelled as functions of participation in each of several retention strategies while controlling for age, gender, profession, and district.
Nineteen health worker recruitment and retention strategies were identified and 45 health care workers interviewed in the two districts; participation in each strategy varied from 0% to 80% of study participants. Although a salary top-up for health workers in rural areas was identified as the most effective incentive, almost none of the recruitment and retention strategies were significant predictors of health workers’ job satisfaction, likelihood of leaving, or frequency of considering leaving, which were in large part explained by individual characteristics such as age, gender, and profession. These quantitative findings were consistent with the qualitative data, which indicated that existing strategies fail to address major problems identified by health workers in these districts, such as poor living and working conditions.
Although somewhat limited by a small sample size and the cross-sectional nature of the primary data available, the results nonetheless show that the many health worker recruitment and retention strategies implemented in rural Zambia appear to have little or no impact on keeping health workers in rural areas, and highlight key issues for future recruitment and retention efforts.