PAHO Director urges greater investments in primary care to achieve universal health

25 May 2022
PAHO Director urged to make greater investments in primary health care to achieve universal health care

Geneva, Switzerland, May 25, 2022 (PAHO)- Achieving universal health requires greater investments in primary health care, financial mechanisms that guarantee access to care, reduce out-of-pocket health spending to almost zero, and build a skilled workforce, the Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Carissa F. Etienne said.

Speaking at a panel discussion held on the sidelines of the 75th World Health Assembly, Dr. Etienne stated that "primary care is the foundation for achieving universal health access and coverage, the Sustainable Development Goals and human development," but "unless we invest more in primary care, we won't get there."

It is estimated that about a third of the population in the Americas does not have access to primary care, and that the average investment in health is 4.2% of country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), below the 6% stipulated in PAHO's 2014 Strategy for Universal Access to Health and Universal Health Coverage.

"There must be increased investment in health," Dr. Etienne reiterated, and 30% of that investment, should go to primary care.

The PAHO Director also indicated that "significant investments have been made in the development and training of tertiary and secondary level health workers, but not much in primary care," and urged countries to work with academic institutions to have “primary health physicians that understand the communities, and nurses and other health workers for primary health care”.

She also called for more investment in referral systems, digital transformation and in equipment and supplies to ensure quality care. "Unless we increase the capability of primary health care to deliver quality services, our people will continue to bypass primary care and go to the hospitals where the cost is so much more."

The PAHO Director asked delegates to take these messages back to the heads of state. "Long before the pandemic, health systems were in crisis and broken. COVID-19 made it clear that we have not developed them sufficiently," she said. Heads of state "must also take the lead in radically transforming our health services based on primary care.”