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New WHO recommendations: Optimizing health worker roles through task shifting

Monday, 10 Dec 2012

The World Health Organization (WHO) will today issue recommendations regarding optimizing health worker roles through task shifting.  These recommendations aim to facilitate universal access to key, effective interventions for maternal and newborn health. 

Task shifting involves moving tasks from health workers with higher levels of training to health workers with lower levels of training. In this way, access to key health services can be increased in areas where there are currently shortages of health workers.  This optimization might involve, for instance, transferring tasks from nurses to auxiliary nurses or from specialist doctors to general practitioners. 

The recommendations were developed through a structured process, including a thorough review of available evidence. This work was carried out by a team from the WHO and the Norwegian Knowledge Centre for the Health Services, with support from Norad (the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation) and with participation from an international panel. 

The recommendations are intended for decision-makers at regional, national and international levels. Decision makers in each setting need to assess the recommendations in relation to their local context and health system, and to use those interventions regarded as relevant to increasing their populations' access to key maternal and newborn interventions. 

Metin Gülmezoglu, lead specialist in the Department of Reproductive Health and Research, WHO and WHO lead for the development of the recommendations, noted that: "Our overall objective is to ensure that every mother and child who needs attention and care receives the best option. And we hope that the policies recommended in the WHO guideline will help countries achieve this." 

Claire Glenton and Simon Lewin, senior researchers in the Norwegian Knowledge Centre for the Health Services and responsible for technical work on the guideline, commented that: "These evidence-based recommendations aim to help policymakers find the best solution for delivering care for mothers and babies. The recommendations should not be perceived as promoting second class health services. Rather these recommendations focus on what is considered to be safe and effective, regardless of context. Ultimately, we hope that the recommendations will help to reduce health inequities and promote universal access to health care."


Short version of press release

The World Health Organization’s recommendations on optimizing the roles of health workers aim to help address critical health workforce shortages that slow down progress towards the health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). A more rational distribution of tasks and responsibilities among cadres of health workers can significantly improve both access and cost-effectiveness – for example by training and enabling ‘mid-level’ and ‘lay’ health workers to perform specific interventions otherwise provided only by cadres with longer (and sometimes more specialized) training.   

These recommendations are intended for health policy-makers, managers and other stakeholders at a regional, national and international level. WHO hopes that countries will adapt and implement them to meet local needs. The recommendations were developed through a formal, structured process including a thorough review of available evidence. The process and the recommendations are described in the related documents. 



Dr Metin Gülmezoglu

Email:  gulmezoglum@who.int

World Health Organization 

Dr Claire Glenton

Email: claire.glenton@nokc.no

Norwegian Knowledge Centre for the Health Services 

Dr Simon Lewin

Email: simon.lewin@nokc.no

Norwegian Knowledge Centre for the Health Services, and South African Medical Research Council


For more information, please visit the following sites: http://www.optimizemnh.org