World Health Organization Issues New Recommendations: Task-Shifting for Maternal and Newborn Health

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By: Kate Mitchell, Manager of the MHTF Knowledge Management System, Women and Health Initiative

The World Health Organization recently launched a new website with detailed recommendations for how countries can improve access to critical maternal and newborn health interventions through task-shifting.

The new guidelines include an interactive feature where policymakers can browse by specific intervention or by type of health worker to get a sense of the safety and feasibility of shifting specific tasks from one cadre of health worker to another.

WHO also produced a video that explains the importance and the process of developing the new recommendations.

Context for the new recommendations (from the detailed recommendations):

Human resource shortages in the health services are widely acknowledged as a threat to the attainment of the healthrelated Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Attempts to optimize the potential of the existing health workforce are therefore crucial. A more rational distribution of tasks and responsibilities among cadres of health workers is seen as a promising strategy for improving access and costeffectiveness within health systems. For example, access to care may be improved by training and enabling ‘mid-level’ and ‘lay’ health workers to perform specific interventions that might otherwise be provided only by cadres with longer (and sometimes more specialized) training. Such task shifting strategies might be particularly attractive to countries that lack the means to improve access to care within short periods of time.

Objectives of the new guidelines (from the detailed recommendations):

These recommendations have been developed as part of the World Health Organization’s mandate to provide normative guidance to its member states. The objective of this guidance is to issue evidence-based recommendations to facilitate universal access to key, effective maternal and newborn interventions through the optimization of health worker roles. These recommendations are intended for health policymakers, managers and other stakeholders at a regional, national and international level. By providing this broad guidance internationally, the World Health Organization (WHO) assumes that countries will adapt and implement these recommendations while also considering the political system and health systems context in which they operate.

Access the detailed recommendations here.