WASHINGTON, (CMC) – Caribbean Community (Caricom) health ministers joined their counterparts from the Americas in discussing ways to strengthen and transform health systems in the region, using the primary healthcare approach to face current challenges and prepare for future health emergencies.
The “Health for all: Strengthening primary healthcare to build resilient systems,” meeting was also attended by the director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr Jarbas Barbosa, and formed part of the World Health Day commemorations to honour the World Health Organization (WHO) on the 75th anniversary of its creation.
Dr Barbosa highlighted some of the achievements in primary care in the Americas over the past decades, including an increase in life expectancy, the eradication of endemic transmission of measles, rubella and congenital rubella, and a reduction in infant mortality.
Despite this progress, however, PAHO said low levels of investment, fragmented health systems and limited response capacity at the first level of care “mean that barriers to access health remain, disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable.”
Guyana’s Health Minister, Dr Frank Anthony, said “We recognise that primary health care is the foundation of our healthcare system.
“That’s why we’re placing so much emphasis on the development of primary health care, to give people access, to ensure people have an expanded range of services they can get and also to bring it as close as possible to their communities so they can benefit from all of these services,” he added.
Dr Barbosa said the COVID-19 pandemic has also “exposed, exacerbated, and created structural health system challenges” that have further deepened inequalities and affected response capacity and results in the field of public health.
“We aspire to develop and achieve health systems that have the capacity to prepare for and respond effectively to an emergency, maintain basic functions when a crisis occurs, and reorganise and transform if conditions require.”
The PAHO director also highlighted that expanding primary health care is key to addressing the burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), particularly given that 240 million people currently live with a chronic condition in the Americas.
To ensure a focus on primary health care, he urged countries to strengthen the stewardship of health authorities, the governance of health systems, improve social empowerment, and develop integrated health services focused on primary care.
“The leadership role of National Health Authorities is undeniable,” added Dr Barbosa, thanking the ministers for participating in the dialogue.
He said countries must now invest in “creating, strengthening, and institutionalising spaces for social participation where people can learn, participate, get involved, and hold health leaders and systems accountable to address collective needs.
“Achieving universal health in our region requires our joint effort and collaboration. From the Pan American Health Organization, we reiterate our commitment to provide all our technical capacity to support member-states in achieving this objective,” he added.