Community health volunteers (CHVs) act as vital links between communities and health facilities, bridging the health service delivery gap common in low- and middle-income countries. In 2013, changes in funding in western Kenya left most CHVs without their individual monthly stipend. In this article, we explore how the implementation of a pooled incentive model had an impact on the lives of CHVs from two counties in western Kenya. Participation in this form of table banking was meant to allow CHVs to pool their resources together and invest in income-generating activities to offset the costs of unpaid health work. A pre-post qualitative study, consisting of focus group discussions and in-depth interviews explored CHV compensation, motivations and challenges experienced in 2013 and 2015, prior to and after the implementation of this pooled incentive model. Following withdrawal of the monthly stipend, we found that CHVs continued to take on roles and responsibilities of paid health workers, motivated by shared social identities and connections to their communities. However, replacing the stipend with a pooled-group incentive model seemingly exacerbated the financial burden already experienced by this vulnerable population. This study brings into question the sustainability and viability of a volunteer community health worker programme and highlights the need to address the financial burden associated with the CHV role in western Kenya.

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