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Community Health Workers and Disasters: Lessons Learned from the 2015 Earthquake in Nepal

  • Karla Fredricks (a1) (a2), Hao Dinh (a1), Manita Kusi (a3), Chandra Yogal (a3), Biraj M. Karmacharya (a3) (a4), Thomas F. Burke (a1) (a2) (a5) and Brett D. Nelson (a1) (a2) (a5)...

The Nepal earthquake of 2015 was a major disaster that exacted an enormous toll on human lives and caused extensive damage to the infrastructure of the region. Similar to other developing countries, Nepal has a network of community health workers (CHWs; known as female community health volunteers [FCHVs]) that was in place prior to the earthquake and continues to function to improve maternal and child health. These FCHVs and other community members were responsible, by default, for providing the first wave of assistance after the earthquake.


Community health workers such as FCHVs could be used to provide formal relief services in the event of an emergency, but there is a paucity of evidence-based literature on how to best utilize them in disaster risk reduction, preparedness, and response. Data are needed to further characterize the roles that this cadre has played in past disasters and what strategies can be implemented to better incorporate them into future emergency management.


In March 2016, key-informant interviews, FCHV interviews, and focus group discussions (FGDs) were conducted in Nepali health facilities using semi-structured guides. The audio-recorded data were obtained with the assistance of a translator (Nepali-English), transcribed verbatim in English, and coded by two independent researchers (manually and with NVivo 11 Pro software [QSR International; Melbourne, Australia]).


Across seven different regions, 14 interviews with FCHVs, two FGDs with community women, and three key-informant interviews were conducted. Four major themes emerged around the topic of FCHVs and the 2015 earthquake: (1) community care and rapport between FCHVs and local residents; (2) emergency response of FCHVs in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake; (3) training requested to improve the FCHVs’ ability to manage disasters; and (4) interaction with relief organizations and how to create collaborations that provide aid relief more effectively.


The FCHVs in Nepal provided multiple services to their communities in the aftermath of the earthquake, largely without any specific training or instruction. Proper preparation, in addition to improved collaboration with aid agencies, could increase the capacity of FCHVs to respond in the event of a future disaster. The information gained from this study of the FCHV experience in the Nepal earthquake could be used to inform risk reduction and emergency management policies for CHWs in various settings worldwide.

Fredricks K , Dinh H , Kusi M , Yogal C , Karmacharya BM , Burke TF , Nelson BD . Community Health Workers and Disasters: Lessons Learned from the 2015 Earthquake in Nepal. Prehosp Disaster Med. 2017;32(6):604609.

Corresponding author
Correspondence: Karla Fredricks, MD, MPH Division of Global Health and Human Rights Department of Emergency Medicine Massachusetts General Hospital E-mail:
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Conflicts of interest: none

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Prehospital and Disaster Medicine
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