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      Task Shifting for Non-Communicable Disease Management in Low and Middle Income Countries – A Systematic Review


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          One potential solution to limited healthcare access in low and middle income countries (LMIC) is task-shifting- the training of non-physician healthcare workers (NPHWs) to perform tasks traditionally undertaken by physicians. The aim of this paper is to conduct a systematic review of studies involving task-shifting for the management of non-communicable disease (NCD) in LMIC.


          A search strategy with the following terms “task-shifting”, “non-physician healthcare workers”, “community healthcare worker”, “hypertension”, “diabetes”, “cardiovascular disease”, “mental health”, “depression”, “chronic obstructive pulmonary disease”, “respiratory disease”, “cancer” was conducted using Medline via Pubmed and the Cochrane library. Two reviewers independently reviewed the databases and extracted the data.


          Our search generated 7176 articles of which 22 were included in the review. Seven studies were randomised controlled trials and 15 were observational studies. Tasks performed by NPHWs included screening for NCDs and providing primary health care. The majority of studies showed improved health outcomes when compared with usual healthcare, including reductions in blood pressure, increased uptake of medications and lower depression scores. Factors such as training of NPHWs, provision of algorithms and protocols for screening, treatment and drug titration were the main enablers of the task-shifting intervention. The main barriers identified were restrictions on prescribing medications and availability of medicines. Only two studies described cost-effective analyses, both of which demonstrated that task-shifting was cost-effective.


          Task-shifting from physicians to NPHWs, if accompanied by health system re-structuring is a potentially effective and affordable strategy for improving access to healthcare for NCDs. Since the majority of study designs reviewed were of inadequate quality, future research methods should include robust evaluations of such strategies.

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          Most cited references 27

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          Achieving child survival goals: potential contribution of community health workers.

          There is renewed interest in the potential contribution of community health workers to child survival. Community health workers can undertake various tasks, including case management of childhood illnesses (eg, pneumonia, malaria, and neonatal sepsis) and delivery of preventive interventions such as immunisation, promotion of healthy behaviour, and mobilisation of communities. Several trials show substantial reductions in child mortality, particularly through case management of ill children by these types of community interventions. However, community health workers are not a panacea for weak health systems and will need focussed tasks, adequate remuneration, training, supervision, and the active involvement of the communities in which they work. The introduction of large-scale programmes for community health workers requires evaluation to document the impact on child survival and cost effectiveness and to elucidate factors associated with success and sustainability.
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            Effect of screening on oral cancer mortality in Kerala, India: a cluster-randomised controlled trial.

            Oral cancer is common in men from developing countries, and is increased by tobacco and alcohol use. We aimed to assess the effect of visual screening on oral cancer mortality in a cluster-randomised controlled trial in India. Of the 13 clusters chosen for the study, seven were randomised to three rounds of oral visual inspection by trained health workers at 3-year intervals and six to a control group during 1996-2004, in Trivandrum district, Kerala, India. Healthy participants aged 35 years and older were eligible for the study. Screen-positive people were referred for clinical examination by doctors, biopsy, and treatment. Outcome measures were survival, case fatality, and oral cancer mortality. Oral cancer mortality in the study groups was analysed and compared by use of cluster analysis. Analysis was by intention to treat. Of the 96,517 eligible participants in the intervention group, 87,655 (91%) were screened at least once, 53,312 (55%) twice, and 29,102 (30%) three times. Of the 5145 individuals who screened positive, 3218 (63%) complied with referral. 95,356 eligible participants in the control group received standard care. 205 oral cancer cases and 77 oral cancer deaths were recorded in the intervention group compared with 158 cases and 87 deaths in the control group (mortality rate ratio 0.79 [95% CI 0.51-1.22]). 70 oral cancer deaths took place in users of tobacco or alcohol, or both, in the intervention group, compared with 85 in controls (0.66 [0.45-0.95]). The mortality rate ratio was 0.57 (0.35-0.93) in male tobacco or alcohol users and 0.78 (0.43-1.42) in female users. : Oral visual screening can reduce mortality in high-risk individuals and has the potential of preventing at least 37,000 oral cancer deaths worldwide.
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              Lay health worker led intervention for depressive and anxiety disorders in India: impact on clinical and disability outcomes over 12 months

              This paper has been corrected post-publication in deviation from print and in accordance with a correction printed in the February 2012 issue of the Journal. Background Depressive and anxiety disorders (common mental disorders) are the most common psychiatric condition encountered in primary healthcare. Aims To test the effectiveness of an intervention led by lay health counsellors in primary care settings (the MANAS intervention) to improve the outcomes of people with common mental disorders. Method Twenty-four primary care facilities (12 public, 12 private) in Goa (India) were randomised to provide either collaborative stepped care or enhanced usual care to adults who screened positive for common mental disorders. Participants were assessed at 2, 6 and 12 months for presence of ICD-10 common mental disorders, the severity of symptoms of depression and anxiety, suicidal behaviour and disability levels. All analyses were intention to treat and carried out separately for private and public facilities and adjusted for the design. The trial has been registered with clinicaltrials.gov (NCT00446407). Results A total of 2796 participants were recruited. In public facilities, the intervention was consistently associated with strong beneficial effects over the 12 months on all outcomes. There was a 30% decrease in the prevalence of common mental disorders among those with baseline ICD-10 diagnoses (risk ratio (RR) = 0.70, 95% CI 0.53–0.92); and a similar effect among the subgroup of participants with depression (RR = 0.76, 95% CI 0.59–0.98). Suicide attempts/plans showed a 36% reduction over 12 months (RR = 0.64, 95% CI 0.42–0.98) among baseline ICD-10 cases. Strong effects were observed on days out of work and psychological morbidity, and modest effects on overall disability. In contrast, there was little evidence of impact of the intervention on any outcome among participants attending private facilities. Conclusions Trained lay counsellors working within a collaborative-care model can reduce prevalence of common mental disorders, suicidal behaviour, psychological morbidity and disability days among those attending public primary care facilities.

                Author and article information

                Role: Editor
                PLoS One
                PLoS ONE
                PLoS ONE
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                14 August 2014
                : 9
                : 8
                [1 ]The George Institute for Global Health, Sydney, Australia
                [2 ]University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
                [3 ]The George Institute for Global Health, Hyderabad, India
                [4 ]Medical Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa
                [5 ]University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom
                University of Massachusetts Medical School, United States of America
                Author notes

                Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

                Conceived and designed the experiments: RJ MA AP. Analyzed the data: RJ MA. Wrote the paper: RJ MA APK SJ PKM DR AP.


                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

                Page count
                Pages: 6
                The authors have no funding or support to report.
                Research Article
                Medicine and Health Sciences
                Health Care
                Primary Care
                Public and Occupational Health
                Global Health
                Preventive Medicine



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