January 1, 2008

WHO Promotes Community Health Workers for HIV/AIDS Care

With developing countries facing a critical shortage of medical professionals, which compounds epidemics of HIV/AIDS and other diseases, the World Health Organization (WHO) released guidelines to increase the role of less specialized community health workers. The guidelines’ goal is to assist countries seeking to make greater use of community health workers without sacrificing quality of care.

At a conference this month in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, WHO released guidelines on shifting health care tasks down the specialization pyramid to free up time for skilled professionals to focus on aspects of HIV care requiring more training.

According to WHO, 36 countries in Africa and more than 20 others around the world have severe shortages of health workers. Training new doctors and nurses takes many years, but community health workers can be ready in a matter of months.

Although efforts to increase access to HIV/AIDS care are driving the task-shifting movement, WHO hopes task shifting also will strengthen health care systems as a whole by improving access to primary care.

A WHO brochure provides an introduction to task shifting.

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