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Task-shifting for Healthier and more Resilient Communities

Kelvin Cheung, a Year 4 student from the GHD programme, is undertaking his internship placement semester at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) with the Health and Care Department, Geneva Headquarters, Switzerland.

He currently supports the work of the Care in communities program focusing on community-based health workers, including its Red Cross and Red Crescent trained volunteers, through guideline development for 192 National Societies to deliver context-appropriate health services at the community level and varied settings. The programmatic health interventions are wide-ranging from First Aid training and Non-communicable disease (NCD) prevention to Healthy Ageing and Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS). Please see below his current takeaway from the placement.

“A notable takeaway from my internship so far has been learning about the creative ways in which we could tackle the global shortage and unequal distribution of health professionals, while also improving the health of communities at the same time. The key to doing so starts from the community level.

Upon proofreading IFRC Care in communities evidence-based health intervention guidelines for NCD prevention, control and management, I was introduced to the concept of “Task-shifting,” which is the act of delegating tasks normally provided by qualified health professionals and /or formal health systems to be carried out by less qualified community based health workers with specific trainings and experiences like NCD screening. These tasks could include screening, follow-up care, patient navigation, medication adherence and regime compliance, psychosocial support, and healthy lifestyle counselling, which are all crucial for NCD prevention as well as their management. Importantly, “shifting” these tasks to volunteers may help to reduce the burdens for qualified formal health workers, such as doctors and nurses, and allow for them to focus on providing more specialised care. Seeing as the tasks include holistic health interventions from education and prevention, to treatment support and follow-up, the role of community based health workers and volunteers are more important than ever in also ensuring the continuity of care of patients from a life-course perspective. Therefore, we see the dual benefit of mobilising these volunteers and workers in both mitigating the effects of workforce shortages as well as the burden of NCDs.

Hence, through reading about the various task-shifting strategies employed across communities, I have developed an even deeper appreciation for both formal and informal health workers in their role in both sustaining health systems and promoting and protecting the health of communities concurrently. Task-shifting is the first step to combat shortages in the global health workforce. While many countries may learn from this approach, there still exist many implementation challenges which will call for creative minds and interdisciplinary collaboration to overcome. Nevertheless, it is still useful to know that more countries are adopting this evidence-based approach to improve both the health and development of their communities.”


Kelvin Cheung


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