Optimizing lay counsellor services for chronic care in South Africa: A qualitative systematic review

Inge Petersen*, Lara Fairall, Catherine O. Egbe, Arvin Bhana

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: To conduct a qualitative systematic review on the use of lay counsellors in South Africa to provide lessons on optimizing their use for psychological and behavioural change counselling for chronic long-term care in scare-resource contexts. Method: A qualitative systematic review of the literature on lay counsellor services in South Africa. Results: Twenty-nine studies met the inclusion criteria. Five randomized control trials and two cohort studies reported that lay counsellors can provide behaviour change counselling with good outcomes. One multi-centre cohort study provided promising evidence of improved anti-retroviral treatment adherence and one non-randomized controlled study provided promising results for counselling for depression. Six studies found low fidelity of lay counsellor-delivered interventions in routine care. Reasons for low fidelity include poor role definition, inconsistent remuneration, lack of standardized training, and poor supervision and logistical support. Conclusion: Within resource-constrained settings, adjunct behaviour change and psychological services provided by lay counsellors can be harnessed to promote chronic care at primary health care level. Practice implications: Optimizing lay counsellor services requires interventions at an organizational level that provide a clear role definition and scope of practice; in-service training and formal supervision; and sensitization of health managers to the importance and logistical requirements of counselling.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)201-210
Number of pages10
JournalPatient Education and Counseling
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Chronic care
  • Lay counsellors
  • South Africa
  • Systematic review


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