A recent WHO statement has urged countries in the South- East Asia region to prioritize their investment in Primary Healthcare (PHC) in order to accelerate progress towards Universal Health Coverage. Strengthening the network of primary healthcare centres, will enable access to healthcare services close to where people live and work, reduce the cost of care, enhance equity, and ensure better preparedness and response to pandemics.
Primary health care (PHC) addresses the majority of a person’s health needs throughout their lifetime. This includes physical, mental and social well-being and it is people-centred rather than disease-centred. A primary health care approach includes three components:
- meeting people’s health needs throughout their lives;
- addressing the broader determinants of health through multisectoral policy and action; and,
- empowering individuals, families and communities to take charge of their own health.
Talking about the paradigm shift that needs to be taken in the area of primary healthcare, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said “One of the key lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic is that the best defence against disease outbreak and other health emergencies is resilient PHC as the foundation of UHC. Many of the countries that have responded most effectively to COVID-19 are those that had invested adequately in PHC.’
As the world prepares to enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries having a disproportionately higher poor population in the region, are facing several health-related challenges. Among all World Health Organization regions, the South-East Asia region has the highest proportion of out-of-pocket spending on health, in addition to accounting for a disproportionate share of the world’s poor.
A high-level virtual meeting was held to commemorate the UHC day and to launch the South-East Regional Strategy for PHC. The meeting was attended by various health ministers from member countries. Speaking at the meeting, Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh highlighted that the countries with strong PHC systems were able to respond faster and more efficiently to the challenges posed by the pandemic, while also maintaining essential services with minimal disruption. Health ministers from the member countries also emphasised the importance of the PHC approach to achieve UHC and health system resilience.
“PHC is the key that unlocks UHC – through simultaneously addressing concerns related to equity and efficiency. We need a paradigm shift to ensure that primary health care is provided throughout the life course with a focus on prevention and well-being that is organized around the comprehensive needs and expectations of the people and communities,” said the Regional Director.
The Regional PHC Strategy is a direct response to the South-East Asia Region Health Ministers Declaration at the 74th Regional Committee, where the Health Ministers from the Region committed to seizing a once-in-a-century opportunity and support transformation toward resilient PHC-oriented health systems.
Currently, one of the major areas of focus of the global community is achieving UHC, and PHC is a necessary foundation for these efforts. PHC is critical for addressing each aspect of UHC.
The new regional strategy launched by WHO for PHC will help all countries of the Region build back better to achieve UHC and health security, and accelerate towards the health-related Sustainable Development Goals. The strategy builds upon examples from practically every country in the region on the efforts to strengthen PHC and identifies a set of 12 interdependent strategic actions to enable countries to strengthen policy, implementation, monitoring and learning for PHC.