The FINANCIAL — COVID-19 has exposed vast weaknesses in health systems around the world and has exacerbated gaps in quality and service while highlighting the critical role of quality primary health care (PHC) during a health emergency. According to a new World Bank report, well-designed PHC has the potential to help flatten the curve during a health crisis like COVID-19 by providing measures such as surveillance, testing and contract tracing, community outreach and vaccine coverage, and in keeping hospitals from overflowing with critically ill patients.
Walking the Talk: Reimagining Primary Health Care after COVID-19 charts an agenda toward reimagined, fit-for-purpose PHC. It calls for a significant increase in financing by both countries and donors since investments in primary health care yield high returns and promote resilience and sustainability.
“The current crisis has inflicted devastating health and economic costs, but also has created a once-in-a-generation chance for transformational health system changes,” says Mamta Murthi, World Bank Vice President for Human Development. “In crises and at ordinary times, strong primary health care saves lives and money and makes health systems more resilient.”
The report shows how governments can improve their PHC and how partners like the World Bank can support this vital work. It also makes a strong case for governments to recommit to improving people’s health, with an aim to achieving universal health coverage and preventing future health crises, World Bank notes.
To reimagine PHC, the report identifies four high-level structural shifts in how it is designed, financed, and delivered:
From low-quality to high-quality services delivered by multi-disciplinary teams to strengthen the range and quality of care.
From fragmented care to person-centered integration, in which cohesive, PHC teams coordinate care around patients’ needs.
From inequity to fairness and accountability, in which equitable, efficient PHC delivery fosters and rewards accountability for health outcomes.
From fragility to resilience, in which PHC teams conduct public-health surveillance and outreach, and health sector planning and resource allocation include financial and human-resource surge capacity.
“To drive health gains in the 21st century, primary health care needs to reach new levels of performance,” says Muhammad Pate, World Bank Global Director for Health, Nutrition, and Population. “As countries reimagine their systems, the World Bank has three main mechanisms of support. We will accelerate access to financing, mobilize practice-relevant public health care knowledge, and establish a dedicated platform for policy discussion and technical assistance.”
The report also provides guidance on a wide range of initiatives that governments can pursue to help realize the potential of well-functioning PHC aligned to three key priorities including team-based PHC, a revitalized PHC workforce, and adequate and sustainable financing.
World Bank Group COVID-19 Response
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Bank Group has committed over $125 billion to fight the health, economic, and social impacts of the pandemic, the fastest and largest crisis response in its history. The financing is helping more than 100 countries strengthen pandemic preparedness, protect the poor and jobs, and jump start a climate-friendly recovery. The Bank is also providing $12 billion to help low- and middle-income countries purchase and distribute COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments.