What does it mean for fragile primary health care systems and workforce?
We believe that everyone has the right to access quality healthcare to enable them to live full and healthy lives. Our contribution towards universal healthcare for all is to support and strengthen primary health care systems and healthworkers in resource-poor settings.
The implications of COVID-19 on these primary healthcare systems – already weak as a result of under-investment over many years – and frontline health workers within this system, are enormous. This global pandemic poses a new and serious challenge to all our efforts to achieve quality healthcare coverage for all.
As a result of the fast-growing impact of chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, respiratory conditions, diabetes and cancers on families, communities, and health systems in low- and middle-income settings, PCI’s particular focus over the past five years has been on building capacity in primary healthcare systems to manage chronic diseases, or Non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
The risk of dying prematurely from an NCD in a low-or middle-income setting is already almost double that of high-income countries. We know that COVID-19 appears to increase the risk of becoming severely ill for older people and for those with underlying health conditions.
And so, people living with NCDs are at significant risk of severe illness or death during this pandemic. They are facing increased risk from coronavirus itself and disruption to care for existing chronic conditions.
As a primary health care champion, PCI is quickly adapting its offerings to meet current needs, much in the way that a strong primary health care system must. We are responding to requests from front-line healthcare workers across the globe by providing open access to newly created Covid-19 e-learning resources for those working in resource-limited settings, tackling a range of topics from screening and triage, clinic operations, health workforce planning through to continuity of essential services including mental health. These have been co-created by our own networks in partnership with guest writers and partners, drawing from a wide pool of knowledge and expertise, and have now been accessed in more than 75 countries. We are also providing technical and clinical support to new and existing partners as they pivot and re-align health services. We are particularly glad to partner with humanitarian organisations for whom the challenges are multiplied, including supporting the WHO Covid-19 response in Syria. Looking ahead, many more of PCI’s primary healthcare resources and services will be moving online as we adjust to some kind of ‘new normal’.
As well as the enormous, and immediate, risk of a pandemic sweeping through resource-poor settings who cannot afford the luxuries of isolation, or even hand-washing, it is equally true that when we emerge from this unprecedented period, we will also undoubtedly find that the health of people living with NCDs – having lost access to their medication and routine healthcare – will have deteriorated significantly. We need to be ready to work alongside partners step up our response in support of depleted health systems with a laser sharp focus on these vulnerable groups.
Primary care in the community remains the best way to achieve healthcare for all. It is clear that now, more than ever, we need to work in partnership to strengthen primary care health systems. To support healthcare workers – through our peer to peer model – to build the knowledge and skills, needed to do their job.
We stand in solidarity with all those working to ensure healthcare for all.