Task sharing within a managed clinical network to improve child health in Malawi

Bernadette Ann-Marie O'Hare, Ajib Phiri, Hans-Joerg Lang, Hanny Friesen, Neil Kennedy, Kondwani Kawaza, Collins E. Jana, Wakisa Mulwafu, Geert T. Heikens, Mwapatsa Mipando

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Eighty per cent of Malawi’s 8 million children live in rural areas, and there is an extensive tiered health system infrastructure from village health clinics to district hospitals which refers patients to one of the four central hospitals. The clinics and district hospitals are staffed by nurses, non-physician clinicians and recently qualified doctors. There are 16 paediatric specialists working in two of the four central hospitals which serve the urban population as well as accepting referrals from district hospitals. In order to provide expert paediatric care as close to home as possible, we describe our plan to task share within a managed clinical network and our hypothesis that this will improve paediatric care and child health.

Presentation of the hypothesis
Managed clinical networks have been found to improve equity of care in rural districts and to ensure that the correct care is provided as close to home as possible. A network for paediatric care in Malawi with mentoring of non-physician clinicians based in a district hospital by paediatricians based at the central hospitals will establish and sustain clinical referral pathways in both directions. Ultimately, the plan envisages four managed paediatric clinical networks, each radiating from one of Malawi’s four central hospitals and covering the entire country. This model of task sharing within four hub-and-spoke networks may facilitate wider dissemination of scarce expertise and improve child healthcare in Malawi close to the child’s home.

Testing the hypothesis
Funding has been secured to train sufficient personnel to staff all central and district hospitals in Malawi with teams of paediatric specialists in the central hospitals and specialist non-physician clinicians in each government district hospital. The hypothesis will be tested using a natural experiment model. Data routinely collected by the Ministry of Health will be corroborated at the district. This will include case fatality rates for common childhood illness, perinatal mortality and process indicators. Data from different districts will be compared at baseline and annually until 2020 as the specialists of both cadres take up posts.

Implications of the hypothesis
If a managed clinical network improves child healthcare in Malawi, it may be a potential model for the other countries in sub-Saharan Africa with similar cadres in their healthcare system and face similar challenges in terms of scarcity of specialists.
Original languageEnglish
Article number60
Number of pages5
JournalBMC Human Resources for Health
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jul 2015


  • Managed clinical networks
  • Task shifting
  • Task sharing
  • Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Child health
  • Paediatrics
  • Non-physician clinicians


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