A comprehensive review of the barriers and promoters health workers experience in delivering prevention of vertical transmission of HIV services in sub-Saharan Africa

Roseanne C. Schuster*, Devon E. McMahon, Sera L. Young

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

9 Scopus citations


Despite significant biomedical and policy advances, 199,000 infants and young children in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) became infected with HIV in 2013, indicating challenges to implementation of these advances. To understand the nature of these challenges, we sought to (1) characterize the barriers and facilitators that health workers encountered delivering prevention of vertical transmission of HIV (PVT) services in SSA and (2) evaluate the use of theory to guide PVT service delivery. The PubMed and CINAHL databases were searched using keywords barriers, facilitators, HIV, prevention of vertical transmission of HIV, health workers, and their synonyms to identify relevant studies. Barriers and facilitators were coded at ecological levels according to the Determinants of Performance framework. Factors in this framework were then classified as affecting motivation, opportunity, or ability, per the Motivation-Opportunity-Ability (MOA) framework in order to evaluate domains of health worker performance within each ecological level. We found that the most frequently reported challenges occurred within the health facility level and spanned all three MOA domains. Barriers reported in 30% or more of studies from most proximal to distal included those affecting health worker motivation (stress, burnout, depression), patient opportunity (stigma), work opportunity (poor referral systems), health facility opportunity (overburdened workload, lack of supplies), and health facility ability (inadequate PVT training, inconsistent breastfeeding messages). Facilitators were reported in lower frequencies than barriers and tended to be resolutions to challenges (e.g., quality supervision, consistent supplies) or responses to an intervention (e.g., record systems and infrastructure improvements). The majority of studies did not use theory to guide study design or implementation. Interventions addressing health workers multiple ecological levels of interactions, particularly the health facility, hold promise for far-reaching impact as distal factors influence more proximal factors. Incorporating theory that considers factors beyond the health worker will strengthen endeavors to mitigate barriers to PVT service delivery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)778-794
Number of pages17
JournalAIDS Care - Psychological and Socio-Medical Aspects of AIDS/HIV
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2 2016



  • Prevention of vertical transmission of HIV
  • health systems
  • health workers
  • performance
  • theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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