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Open Access Research article

Policy and programmatic implications of task shifting in Uganda: a case study

Yoswa M Dambisya1* and Sheillah Matinhure2

Author Affiliations

1 Health Systems Research Group, Department of Pharmacy, University of Limpopo, Private Bag X1106, Sovenga 0727, South Africa

2 East, Central and Southern African Health Community (ECSA HC), Human Resources & Capacity Building Programme, ECSA HC Secretariat, 157 Olorien, Njiro Road, Arusha, Tanzania, East Africa

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BMC Health Services Research 2012, 12:61  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-12-61

Published: 12 March 2012

Abstract

Background

Uganda has a severe health worker shortage and a high demand for health care services. This study aimed to assess the policy and programmatic implications of task shifting in Uganda.

Methods

This was a qualitative, descriptive study through 34 key informant interviews and eight (8) focus group discussions, with participants from various levels of the health system.

Results

Policy makers understood task shifting, but front-line health workers had misconceptions on the meaning and intention(s) of task shifting. Examples were cited of task shifting within the Ugandan health system, some formalized (e.g. psychiatric clinical officers), and some informal ones (e.g. nurses inserting IV lines and initiating treatment). There was apparently high acceptance of task shifting in HIV/AIDS service delivery, with involvement of community health workers (CHW) and PLWHA in care and support of AIDS patients.

There was no written policy or guidelines on task shifting, but the policy environment was reportedly conducive with plans to develop a policy and guidelines on task shifting.

Factors favouring task shifting included successful examples of task shifting, proper referral channels, the need for services, scarcity of skills and focused initiatives such as home based management of fever. Barriers to task shifting included reluctance to change, protection of professional turf, professional boundaries and regulations, heavy workload and high disease burden, poor planning, lack of a task shifting champion, lack of guidelines, the name task shifting itself, and unemployed health professionals.

There were both positive and negative views on task shifting: the positive ones cast task shifting as one of the solutions to the dual problem of lack of skills and high demand for service, and as something that is already happening; while negative ones saw it as a quick fix intended for the poor, a threat to quality care and likely to compromise the health system.

Conclusion

There were widespread examples of task in Uganda, and task shifting was mainly attributed to HRH shortages coupled with the high demand for healthcare services. There is need for clear policy and guidelines to regulate task shifting and protect those who undertake delegated tasks.