Experts discuss key issues in strengthening Primary Health Care to advance health and disease-specific objectives

Astana conference

Washington, D.C., 25 October 2023 (PAHO) -- Primary Health Care is the most effective and efficient way to provide comprehensive health care, including disease prevention and health promotion strategies, underscored James Fitzgerald, Director of Health Systems and Services of the Pan American Health Organization, during the international conference "Primary Health Care Policy and Practice: Implementing for Better Results." The event took place in Astana, Kazakhstan, on 23 October 2023, and marked the 45th anniversary of the Alma-Ata Declaration and the 5th anniversary of the Astana Declaration on primary health care.

During the plenary session titled “Strengthening Primary Health Care (PHC) to advance health and diseases-specific objectives,” James Fitzgerald shared highlights from the virtual roundtable discussions held on 20 September, and presented key asks to policymakers to strengthen PHC. According to the roundtable discussions, there is a need to increase public financing in health, allocating additional resources to PHC. This includes reducing out of pocket expenditures, especially for medicines and health technologies, and strengthening governance and oversight of policies and frameworks for PHC. 

“The progressive elimination of out-of-pocket expenditures ensures the financial protection of people and households, reducing the risk of impoverishment,” said James Fitzgerald. “Investments in newer medicines and technologies, and digital transformation can accelerate our efforts in disease elimination and control, and begin to tackle the burden in NCDs and mental health, reducing avoidable mortality.”

Another key aspect brought up during the roundtable discussions was the need to strengthen the life course approach within health systems based on PHC, integrating disease program objectives. “This means recognizing the differentiated needs of people - women, children, adolescents, men, adults, and older persons - during the different stages of life,” said Fitzgerald. “Recognizing that the health needs of people are determined by their living conditions, in the cities, peri-urban and rural areas where that they live, by economic opportunity, and social policies that influence individual and collective development.”

During the roundtable discussions, another crucial point emphasized was to strengthen the capacity of interprofessional teams within PHC responding to the needs of people where they live. “We need to reconsider how we educate our health workforce. Firstly, promoting greater interdisciplinary education and training across professional competences, and secondly building capacity in collaborative practice and lifelong learning processes, with incentives for specialization in PHC,” he said. 

“The virtual roundtables provided us with a space to reflect on these issues. Now, we must translate these recommendations into action at the national, sub national, and local level, and to continue to mobilize the international community, in the quest to achieve Universal Health through the foundation of PHC,” concluded James Fitzgerald. 

The outcomes of the virtual roundtable discussions are expected to guide and inform policy and decision-makers in their efforts to strengthen and advance primary health care. These key asks underscore the importance of rethinking and reinforcing PHC systems, ensuring that healthcare remains a universal and equitable right for all.