Every day 800 mothers and 8,000 newborns die in pregnancy and childbirth, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) video. Most of these deaths could be prevented, states WHO, which blames a shortage of health workers in high burden countries as a key factor for the deaths.
This shortage means, “We are often unable to deliver … critical interventions to mothers and newborns,” says WHO’s Metin Gulemezoglu, Lead Specialist, Department of Reproductive Health and Research.
So what’s the answer? One possible solution is to shift tasks from one group of health workers to another who have less training but who can be trained to provide the lifesaving interventions. Because these workers often live closer to the communities they serve, and may be more numerous, they may be able to save many lives.
Health providers at a clinic in Cambodia participate in a Maternal and Child Health Training Program provided by the Reproductive and Child Health Alliance (RACHA). The staff, seen here, practice clinical examination of the newborn.
This is the premise behind WHO’s recently released evidence-based guidelines: Optimizing health worker roles to improve access to key maternal and newborn health interventions through task shifting (pdf). The guidelines aim to facilitate universal access to key, effective interventions for maternal and newborn health. They cover lay health workers, auxiliary nurses, auxiliary health midwives, nurses, midwives, associate clinicians, and non-specialist doctors. These health workers have been and can be trained to provide such services as: contraceptive delivery, antenatal care, intrapartum birth (giving birth), postpartum care, and neonatal care. A useful interactive table summarizing the recommendations is available at the WHO website http://www.optimizemnh.org/, where you can also download the main Guidance Document and its annexes, as well as a comprehensive video explaining how the guidelines were formulated and the advantages and challenges for implementing task shifting.