Reducing maternal mortality and providing universal access to reproductive health in resource poor settings has been severely constrained by a shortage of health workers required to deliver interventions. The aim of this article is to determine evidence to optimize health worker roles through task shifting/sharing to address Millennium Development Goal 5 and reduce maternal mortality and provide universal access to reproductive health. A narrative synthesis of peer-reviewed literature from 2000 to 2011 was undertaken with retrieved documents assessed using an inclusion/exclusion criterion and quality appraisal guided by critical assessment tools. Concepts were analysed thematically. The analysis identified a focus on clinical tasks (the delivery of obstetric surgery, anaesthesia and abortion) that were shifted to and/or shared with doctors, non-physician clinicians, nurses and midwives. Findings indicate that shifting and sharing these tasks may increase access to and availability of maternal and reproductive health (MRH) services without compromising performance or patient outcomes and may be cost effective. However, a number of issues and barriers were identified with health workers calling for improved in-service training, supervision, career progression and incentive packages to better support their practice. Collaborative approaches involving community members and health workers at all levels have the potential to deliver MRH interventions effectively if accompanied by ongoing investment in the health care system.
Keywords: Maternal health; health care delivery; human resources for health; reproductive health; skill-mix; task shifting.