The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on livelihoods, food security, and access to basic services have highlighted severe inequities in health and social outcomes across the world. In many countries, communities, governments, civil society, and the private sector are coming together to address the root causes of disparities with interventions that enable fair and just access within foundational systems of universal health care. Globally, on Universal Health Coverage Day, we must remember that strengthening primary health care is a viable way to reach marginalized and hard-to-reach populations, helping to advance health equity.
The importance of resilient primary health care systems
Primary health care (PHC) is the package of essential health services and community level public health functions that addresses health needs across a person’s lifetime, preventing disease, managing illness, and promoting well-being. Resilient PHC systems are central to addressing 21st century health threats, including highly contagious infections and noncommunicable diseases. Investing in strong PHC systems is a fundamental, necessary step to advance health equity and achieve health for all.
Five steps to advance health equity through primary health care
To advance health equity through primary health care, we recommend that the global health community:
- Intentionally address barriers to access posed by social and political determinants, such as race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability, income levels, and geographic location
- Tailor service delivery to be responsive to the local and cultural context, prioritizing consumers’ choice and health literacy, especially among underserved and at-risk populations.
- Facilitate the community’s ownership through active participation on oversight bodies, advisory boards, and cooperative ventures.
- Establish shared values between the community, health authorities, and commercial entities to level power dynamics and promote consumers’ interests with respect and dignity.
- Mobilize and empower local actors, extend their access to information, and enhance their advocacy skills to amplify their voice.