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Shortage and Task Shifting of Healthcare Workers

Laura Edwards


August 10, 2017
New Chapter from Abt Expert in the Encyclopedia of AIDS
An estimated 36.7 million people were living with HIV and AIDS by the end of 2015, with only 18.2 million people accessing antiretroviral therapy (ART). Access to care is critical; strong health systems require an available health care workforce. Many poor nations burdened with high rates of HIV and AIDS also suffer from ‘brain drain,’ or a loss of trained healthcare workers to countries abroad or larger cities within their home country.
Abt Global’s Laura Edwards, Senior Analyst, described the importance of task shifting in addressing the HIV and AIDS epidemic in “Shortage and Task Shifting of Healthcare Workers,” a chapter in the new Encyclopedia of AIDS, published by Springer. The World Health Organization recognizes task shifting as an effective and critical component of addressing the global shortage of healthcare workers.
In the chapter, Edwards explains the social and economic factors that have contributed to the workforce shortage and how task shifting enables health systems to rapidly scale up and reduce the ‘brain drain’ of existing healthcare workers. She explains two methods of task shifting including:
  1. Assigning responsibilities to trained nonphysician clinicians, midwives, and nurses to conduct HIV testing, ART disbursement, clinical monitoring, and side effects management; and
  2. Standardizing and delegating tasks from healthcare professionals to community health workers.
These tasks delegate responsibilities from higher-level healthcare workers to those workers with fewer qualifications but who are otherwise able to perform general tasks such as prescribing or dispensing medications. By doing so, higher-trained professionals are able to dedicate more time to more complex cases across a wider geographic region.
Task shifting is an evidence-based strategy.  Positive outcomes from task shifting have been well documented, from an increased uptake of HIV and AIDS services and more timely diagnoses, to consistent delivery of treatment and reduced loss to follow-up. Edwards further points out that community members living with HIV who are successfully managing their condition are underutilized and could play a valuable role in expanding and offering treatment.
Read the full chapter.
North America