Balancing professional autonomy and authority at the margins of a fragile state: Front-line health workers' experiences in Burkina Faso

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The availability of diagnostic equipment, medical products and basic infrastructure is limited in most low-income societies. Poor motivation among health workers as well as recruitment and retention problems are key factors contributing to poor health care services in developing countries. The current paper describes how the front line cope with these difficult working conditions. Data for this study come from anthropological fieldwork in two districts of Burkina Faso and include a total of 27 unstructured and 40 semi-structured interviews with staff at dispensaries and medical centres in the two districts. Analytically, we make a distinction between their professional autonomy and their professional authority. We find that while the health workers experience a certain degree of professional autonomy, in the sense that they rely on their own clinical judgement and their discretion as decision makers and gatekeepers, their professional authority is constantly challenged when working at the margins of the state. Through improvisations and bricolaging, they compensate for the many shortcomings, but many of them feel that their skills are waning and that their professional identity threatened. Thus, massive strengthening of the front-line health worker's capacity is imperative for future improvement of health care services in Burkina Faso.

Original languageEnglish
JournalGlobal Public Health
Issue number7
Pages (from-to)1099-1110
Publication statusPublished - 2021

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