Task shifting of emergency caesarean section in south Ethiopia: are we repeating the brain drain

Anteneh Asefa, Alison Morgan, Tadesse Hailemariam, Mekonnen Shiferaw, Emebet Mekonnen, Yifru Birhan

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Introduction: preventable mortality from complications which arise during pregnancy and childbirth continue to claim more than a quarter of million women´s lives every year, almost all in low- and middle-income countries. However, lifesaving emergency obstetric services, including caesarean section (CS), significantly contribute to prevention of maternal and newborn mortality and morbidity. Between 2009 and 2013, a task shifting intervention to train caesarean section (CS) teams involving 41 CS surgeons, 35 anesthetic nurses and 36 scrub nurses was implemented in 13 hospitals in southern Ethiopia. We report on the attrition rate of those upskilled to provide CS with a focus on the medium-term outcomes and the challenges encountered.

Methods: a cross-sectional study involving surveys of focal persons and a facility staff audit supplemented with a review of secondary data was conducted in thirteen hospitals. Mean differences were computed to appreciate the difference between numbers of CSs conducted for the six months before and after task shifting commenced.

Results: from the trained 112 professionals, only 52 (46.4%) were available for carrying out CS in the hospitals. CS surgeons (65.9%) and nurse anesthetists (71.4%) are more likely to have left as compared to scrub nurses (22.2%). Despite the loss of trained staff, there was an increase in the number of CSs performed after the task shifting (mean difference=43.8; 95% CI: 18.3-69.4; p=0.003).

Conclusion: our study, one of the first to assess the medium-term effects of task shifting highlights the risk of ongoing attrition of well-trained staff and the need to reassess strategies for staff retention.

Original languageEnglish
Article number145
JournalPan African Medical Journal
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Adult
  • Cesarean Section/adverse effects
  • Clinical Audit
  • Clinical Competence/standards
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Delivery, Obstetric/education
  • Emergency Medical Services/methods
  • Ethiopia/epidemiology
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility/organization & administration
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Maternal Death/prevention & control
  • Parturition
  • Perinatal Mortality
  • Personnel Staffing and Scheduling/organization & administration
  • Pregnancy
  • Quality Improvement/organization & administration
  • Shift Work Schedule/standards
  • Workload/standards


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