Objective To review the effectiveness and safety of clinical officers (healthcare providers trained to perform tasks usually undertaken by doctors) carrying out caesarean section in developing countries compared with doctors. Design Systematic review with meta-analysis. Data sources Medline, Embase, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, CINAHL, BioMed Central, the Reproductive Health Library, and the Science Citation Index (inception-2010) without language restriction. Study selection Controlled studies. Data extraction Information was extracted from each selected article on study characteristics, quality, and outcome data. Two independent reviewers extracted data. Results Six non-randomised controlled studies (16 018 women) evaluated the effectiveness of clinical officers carrying out caesarean section. Meta-analysis found no significant differences between the clinical officers and doctors for maternal death (odds ratio 1.46, 95% confidence interval 0.78 to 2.75; P=0.24) or for perinatal death (1.31, 0.87 to 1.95; P=0.19). The results were heterogeneous, with some studies reporting a higher incidence of both outcomes with clinical officers. Clinical officers were associated with a higher incidence of wound infection (1.58, 1.01 to 2.47; P=0.05) and wound dehiscence (1.89, 1.21 to 2.95; P=0.005). Two studies accounted for confounding factors. Conclusion Clinical officers and doctors did not differ significantly in key outcomes for caesarean section, but the conclusions are tentative owing to the non-randomised nature of the studies. The increase in wound infection and dehiscence may highlight a particular training need for clinical officers.