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Urgent need for public investment to be prioritised

December 12, 2021

The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) on this Universal Health Day, wants countries to invest in building resilient health systems as a central component of recovery and resume the path to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and Universal Health in the Americas.

Director, Dr Carissa Etienne says Covid-19 has exposed pre-pandemic weaknesses of the health system and countries must be better prepared for future pandemics and health crises.

With 46 per cent of countries in the Americas, including the Caribbean, continuing to report disruptions in health service delivery due to the pandemic, Dr Etienne is urging regional countries to urgently prioritize public investment in ensuring resilient health systems post-COVID-19 pandemic. 

Speaking at a high-level event, hosted by Bolivia President Luis Alberto Arce Catacora, to mark Universal Health Day on Sunday, PAHO Director Dr. Carissa Dr. Etienne said that maternal and child health, communicable diseases, routine immunization, and the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases are areas particularly impacted by the pandemic. 

Highlighting Bolivia’s Community and Intercultural Family Health program (SAFCI), Arce Catacora said “the pandemic has revealed the importance of a ensuring a robust primary health care system that can respond quickly and effectively.”  

Dr. Etienne agreed, stating that health systems “must be able to effectively respond to crises while maintaining core functions.” 

Yet, she said initial data suggests that excess mortality and morbidity is rising. 

Despite countries committing to universal health in 1978, with the adoption of the Alma-Ata declaration, the PAHO director highlighted that developments towards health system reform over the decades have been insufficient. 

“We have not seen the scale of transformations that we require to ensure that we can provide care for all people, nor the scale in capacity to improve preparedness and response during public health emergencies,” she said.

Dr. Etienne said the theme of Universal Health Day 2021, “Leave no one’s health behind: invest in health systems for all”, is only achievable through a primary health care approach, which “provides us with the platform to deliver quality, comprehensive care to all.” 

At the PAHO Directing Council in September 2021, PAHO said member states approved a strategy for building resilient health systems post-COVID-19 in order to sustain and protect public health gains. 

The plan includes four lines of action: Transformation of health systems based on a primary health care approach; strengthening leadership, stewardship, and governance; strengthening capacities of health service delivery networks; and increasing and sustaining public financing in health and social protection. 

Dr. Etienne underscored that adequate financing; a qualified workforce, increased primary health care services; access to health technologies, medicines, and information systems; and increased capacity for regional research and development should be the focus of countries as they work towards ensuring the development of resilient health care systems. 

“We must be better prepared,” she said. “We must address pre-pandemic systemic deficiencies as a matter of priority. 

“Let us be bold and innovative as we look to the future,” Dr. Etienne added. “Let us make this unprecedented public health crisis an opportunity for transformation.”

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