Universal Health Day: Public investment crucial to ensuring resilient health systems post-COVID-19

10 Dec 2021
Baby receives care

High-level event led by President of Bolivia and PAHO Director focused on ways to sustain and increase public investment in health

Washington D.C. 10 December 2021 (PAHO) – With 46% of countries in the Americas continuing to report disruptions in health service delivery due to the pandemic, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Carissa F Etienne has called for countries to urgently prioritize public investment to ensure resilient health systems that leave no one behind.

Speaking today at a high-level event hosted by His Excellency Mr. Luis Alberto Arce Catacora, President of the Plurinational State of Bolivia to mark Universal Health Day (12 December), Dr. Etienne said that maternal and child health, communicable diseases, routine immunization and the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases are areas particularly impacted by the pandemic.

Highlighting Bolivia’s Community and Intercultural Family Health program (SAFCI), “the pandemic has revealed the importance of a ensuring a robust primary health care system that can respond quickly and effectively,” the President of the Plurinational State of Bolivia said.

The PAHO Director agreed that health systems “must be able to effectively respond to crises while maintaining core functions,” yet initial data suggests that excess mortality and morbidity is rising.

Despite countries committing to universal health in 1978 with the adoption of the Alma-Ata declaration, the PAHO Director highlighted that developments towards health system reform over the decades have been insufficient.

“We have not seen the scale of transformations that we require to ensure that we can provide care for all people, nor the scale in capacity to improve preparedness and response during public health emergencies,” she said.

Leave no one’s health behind: invest in health systems for all, is the theme of Universal Health Day 2021. This is only achievable through a primary health care approach, the Director urged, which “provides us with the platform to deliver quality, comprehensive care to all.”

At the PAHO Directing Council in September 2021, Member States approved a strategy for building resilient health systems post-COVID-19 in order to sustain and protect public health gains. The plan includes four lines of action:

  1. Transformation of health systems based on a primary health care approach
  2. Strengthening leadership, stewardship, and governance
  3. Strengthening capacities of health service delivery networks
  4. Increasing and sustaining public financing in health and social protection

The Director highlighted that adequate financing; a qualified workforce, increased primary health care services; access to health technologies, medicines, and information systems; and increased capacity for regional research and development should be the focus of countries as they work towards ensuring the development of resilient health care systems.

“We must be better prepared. We must address pre-pandemic systemic deficiencies as a matter of priority,” the Director said.

“Let us be bold and innovative as we look to the future. Let us make this unprecedented public health crisis an opportunity for transformation.”