Primary health care is more than just a basic set of services. It’s an integrated and people-centered approach to care that starts with individuals, families and communities — and it forms the foundation of the health system.
Strong primary health care can address up to 90 percent of a population’s health needs — and save lives — by providing access to comprehensive and high-quality services throughout a patient’s life. Health systems with strong primary care are more equitable, efficient and resilient to shocks, such as disease outbreaks — and they provide greater financial protection and access to vulnerable groups, supporting the achievement of universal health coverage and global targets such as the Sustainable Development Goals.
Despite the promise of primary health care, at least 400 million people around the world still lack access to essential health services. Barriers such as cost, distance, lack of information or low service quality prevent individuals and families from using primary health care as their first point of contact with the health system. And this results in preventable loss of life. As more countries face an increasing burden of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases and cancer, strong primary health care is more important than ever to provide populations with continuous and coordinated care throughout their lives.
While many countries have recognized primary health care as an urgent priority, they continue to face challenges in advancing their vision of primary-health-care-oriented universal health coverage. Competing priorities, inefficient organization, and inadequate financing limit countries’ abilities to strengthen their primary health care systems. And weak performance-measurement systems prevent countries from obtaining and using the data they need to pinpoint challenges and identify pathways toward improvement.
R4D’s work in primary health care system strengthening helps to address these challenges by supporting local change agents to advance primary health care improvements in line with their goals.
- Through country-led networks like the Joint Learning Network for Universal Health Coverage and its Primary Health Care Initiative, we bridge the gap between theory and practice by bringing together national and sub-national change agents to facilitate joint learning and support the development of context-specific, evidence-based solutions to improve primary health care financing, quality, access and performance measurement.
- Through global efforts like the Primary Health Care Performance Initiative, we bring together country policymakers, health-system managers, practitioners, advocates and other development partners to catalyze improvements in primary health care in low- and middle-income countries through better measurement and knowledge-sharing.
- At the country level, we support local change agents to analyze gaps in capacity to provide and finance comprehensive primary health care, and develop solutions to fill these gaps. For example, through support to Ghana’s National Health Insurance Authority, R4D is helping Ghana to complete: a provider-mapping exercise to measure provider capacity to deliver services; a costing exercise of Ghana’s Community Health-Based Planning and Services to enable implementers to plan for costs of scaling up services and potential financial resources to cover these costs; and a provider network pilot to help providers deliver a comprehensive package of care. In Rwanda, R4D has provided support to the government to better utilize existing data on service delivery and management to inform decisions on how primary health care services should be delivered.
Photo ©Unjani Clinics