Jun. 26, 2021

The Role of Primary Health Care in the COVID-19 Pandemic

Director-General's introductory remarks at the high-level event: The Role of Primary Health Care in the COVID-19 Pandemic response and leading equitable recovery
Ministry of Healthcare of Kazakhstan, UNICEF, WHO
22 June 2021
Excellencies, dear colleagues and friends,

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening to all of you, and thank you for joining us today.

I would especially like to thank the Republic of Kazakhstan and UNICEF for co-hosting this event with WHO, and for their long-standing partnership as champions of primary health care, going back to Alma-Ata in 1978.

Our vision of health for all then remains our vision now.

Primary care is the foundation of universal health coverage, which countries adopted as a key target in the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015.

That commitment was re-emphasised in the Declaration of Astana in 2018, and in the High-Level Political Declaration on Universal Health Coverage at the UN General Assembly in 2019.

We are living at a time of unprecedented political commitment to primary health care and universal health coverage.

But globally, the world remains far from that goal.

An estimated 3.6 billion people lack access to essential health services, and every year, 930 million people risk poverty because of out-of-pocket spending on health care.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only set us back further.

Beyond the disease and death caused directly by COVID-19, the pandemic has severely disrupted the provision of many essential health services.

The pandemic has also illustrated the inequities that lie at the root of so many of the world’s health problems.

The development of safe and effective vaccines in record time has given us light at the end of the tunnel.

But gross inequities in access to vaccines have put that light out of sight for most of the world’s population.

Of the 2.5 billion doses administered globally, only 0.3% have been administered in low-income countries.

WHO and our partners are working to address this imbalance.

But as countries recover and rebuild, we must all learn the lessons the pandemic is teaching us.

There is no global health security without local health security, which means strengthening primary health care is essential for an equitable and resilient recovery.

Evidence suggests that countries that have invested adequately in primary health care have responded more effectively COVID-19, and are better positioned to recover, thanks to the level of trust established over time between communities and the health system.

Primary health care can address a wide range of health needs, from promotion and prevention to treatment, rehabilitation and palliation.

In times of emergency, primary health care can help to ensure the continuity of essential health services.

And it can also support the response to COVID-19, with surveillance, testing, contact tracing, and supportive quarantine, among others.

Crucially, primary health care can enhance equity and solidarity, and empower communities to promote and protect their own health.

Supporting countries to strengthen primary health care is a vital part of WHO’s work, to drive progress towards the “triple billion” targets and the Sustainable Development Goals.

At the end of last year, WHO launched the Special Programme on Primary Health Care, to provide support to countries, tailored to their context.

The programme is advancing evidence and innovation, with a sharper focus on people left behind, and promoting policy leadership, advocacy and strategic partnerships.

Primary health care is also a key accelerator in the Global Action Plan on Healthy Lives and Well-Being for All, which WHO and UNICEF co-lead.

Thank you once again to UNICEF and Kazakhstan for your continuing partnership and support.

COVID-19 has taken so much from us, but it has also given us the opportunity to make primary health care the foundation of a healthier, safer and fairer future for everyone, everywhere.

I thank you.

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