Renewed focus on primary health care key to resilient, inclusive health systems: PAHO Director – PAHO/WHO

Renewed focus on primary health care key to resilient, inclusive health systems: PAHO Director - PAHO/WHO

In his address to the UN General Assembly, the Director of PAHO highlights the need for new health financing models, decentralized services, expanded health workforce and enhanced digital and medical technology.

New York, September 21, 2023, (PAHO) – A fundamental shift in health priorities, with a renewed focus on primary health care, is critical to ensuring post-pandemic recovery and achieving global health goals, stressed Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Dr. Jarbas Barbosa during today’s event on the sidelines of the 78th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

The event entitled Investing in a radical reorientation of health systems towards primary health care: The best and only option to achieve universal health coverage, organized by the Government of Chile, PAHO and the World Health Organization (WHO), convened experts to discuss ways and means to strengthen investment and to urgently accelerate progress towards universal health.

“The concept of reorienting health systems towards primary health care, or PHC, is not only politically and technically feasible; it has become imperative due to the profound global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr. Barbosa during the opening of the event, where he spoke alongside President Boric from Chile and WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“The pandemic was a slap in the face to all of us,” President Boric added, “because it exposed deep inequalities between north and south and within each country.” It is therefore essential that the recovery focuses on primary health care as a key element of well-being and disease prevention, added the President of Chile.

Director General of the WHO, Dr. Tedros, welcoming the Political Declaration on Universal Health Coverage adopted earlier in the day, emphasized that primary health care “strengthens the resilience of health systems to prepare for, respond to, and recover from shocks and crises” as it recognizes that “health does not begin in hospitals or clinics, but in homes, schools, streets and workplaces”.

To ensure the development of health care systems that are accessible to all and centered on people, Dr. Barbosa urged countries to go beyond limited packages of services for mothers and children at the community level and expand services to deal with communicable diseases, and in particular non-communicable diseases and mental health services.

Key to achieving this goal will be new health financing models, the PAHO director said, including leveraging private sector capacity and investing in strengthening the health workforce. Dr. Barbosa also called for the decentralization of health services to the community level, including laboratory diagnostics, cancer diagnosis and treatment, and HIV/AIDS care.

For Dr. To Barbosa, digital health technologies are critical to overcoming geographic barriers, making healthcare accessible to remote and underserved communities, and providing patients with the information they need to make informed decisions about their health.

Digital tools that facilitate contact tracing, vaccine distribution and remote patient monitoring also allow us to “adapt quickly in times of crisis,” he said.

“In America, we are turning political declaration into action at the national level,” added the PAHO director. “Chile is an excellent example for all, where under the leadership of President Boric and Minister Aguilera, and with the support of PAHO/WHO, we have seen a rapid expansion of primary health care.”

“I call on all our member states to take similar measures, invest, innovate and implement primary health care.”

The event was also attended by other high-ranking officials, including Dr. Nísia Trindade, Minister of Health of Brazil; Dr. AS Ximena Aguilera Sanhueza, Minister of Health of Chile; Dr. AS Khaled Abdel Ghaffar, Minister of Health and Population of Egypt; Dr. AS Azhar Giniyatovna Giniyat, Minister of Health of Kazakhstan; Dr. AS Maria Teresa Baran, Minister of Health; Mr. William James Quince, Secretary of State for Health, United Kingdom; and Dr. Karina Rando, Minister of Health, Republic of Uruguay.

The 78th UN General Assembly is convening three high-level sessions on health this month in New York. These represent a historic opportunity for world leaders to place health at the top of the political agenda as they recommit to ending tuberculosis (TB), providing universal health coverage (UHC) and strengthening pandemic prevention preparedness and response.

As the lead regional health agency, PAHO has participated in several events aimed at addressing priority health issues in America.

This included a maternal roundtable organized by Devex and MSD on “All in: Sustainable approaches to improving maternal health and achieving UHC through strategic collaboration in the private sector”, where the Director of PAHO highlighted the important role the private sector can play in achieving universal health coverage . Dr. Barbosa also attended Regionalized Vaccine Manufacturing, an event organized by the World Economic Forum in partnership with the World Bank Group and GAVI, where he discussed the organization’s role in helping to establish sustainable vaccine manufacturing in the region. In a session on The Global Health Care Revolution: Equitable Access and Improved Health Outcomes for All, during the Concordia Summit, Dr. Barbosa emphasized the importance of a primary health care approach.

During the meeting Dr. Barbosa signed a series of agreements between PAHO and key partners to improve healthcare in America.

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