HRH: Assessment of interventions to attract and retain health workers in rural Zambia: a discrete choice experiment

4 April, 2019

Citation and abstract below, and a comment/question from me.

CITATION: Assessment of interventions to attract and retain health workers in rural Zambia: a discrete choice experiment

Margaret L. Prust et al.

Human Resources for Health 2019;17:26


Background: Workforce shortages, particularly in rural areas, limit the delivery of health services in Zambia. Policymakers and researchers co-created this study to identify potential non-monetary employment incentives and assess their cost-effectiveness to attract and retain public sector health workers to the rural areas of Zambia.

Methods: The study consisted of two key phases: a discrete choice experiment (DCE), preceded by a qualitative component to inform DCE questionnaire development. Firstly, in qualitative interviews with 25 health workers and focus group discussions (FGDs) with 253 health students, participants were asked to discuss job attributes and potential incentives that would influence their job choices. Based on this exercise and in consultation with policymakers, job attributes were selected for inclusion in a discrete choice experiment (DCE) questionnaire. Secondly, this questionnaire, consisting of hypothetical job “choice sets,” was presented to 474 practicing health workers and students. A conditional logit regression model was applied to the data from this DCE questionnaire to estimate preferences for various job attributes. Using administrative data, we estimated the cost of implementing potential attraction and retention strategies per health worker year worked.

Results: Although health workers preferred urban jobs to rural jobs (OR 1.39, 95% CI 1.11–1.75), employment incentives influenced health workers’ decision to choose rural jobs. If superior housing was offered in a rural area compared to a basic housing allowance in an urban job, participants would be five times as likely to choose the rural job (OR 5.04, 95% CI 4.12–6.18). Education incentives and facility-based improvements also increased the likelihood of rural job uptake. Housing benefits were estimated to have the lowest total costs per health worker year worked, and offer high value in terms of cost per percentage point increase in rural job uptake.

Conclusions: Non-monetary incentives such as housing, education, and facility improvements can be important motivators of health worker choice of location and could mitigate rural health workforce shortages. These results can provide valuable insight into the types of job attributes and incentives that are most likely to be effective in attracting and retaining health workers in rural areas.

Comment (NPW): The above paper tells us: 'In 2003 the Ministry of Health (MOH) launched the Zambian Health Workers Retention Scheme (ZHWRS) pilot program to attract and retain medical doctors in rural and remote areas of the country... Evaluations of the ZHWRS have suggested that the policy has had limited effectiveness and that none of the included incentives are significantly associated with higher retention in rural areas.'

The lack of availability of frontline health workers in rural areas of Zambia (and other LMICs) continues to be a major barrier to the achievement of universal health coverage. I would be interested to hear from HIFA-Zambia members about their experience in this area (whether as a health worker, researcher, or policymaker). Is the situation in Zambia improving?

Best wishes, Neil

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HIFA-Zambia profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is the coordinator of HIFA-Zambia and the HIFA campaign (Healthcare Information For All - ). Twitter: @hifa_org FB: