Role of primary health care in pandemic preparedness

Primary Health Care (PHC) assumes that everyone has the right to health care throughout their lives. Moreover, it aims to meet the health needs of an individual in all its aspects - whether physical, mental or social well-being - through community engagement and collaboration between government, civil society and the private sector.

Community participation is an important principle of PHC and a critical element in improving health outcomes. Community engagement helps build trust which is needed to get the public to follow the directives of health care professional when responding to a health emergency. And by engaging multiple sectors, stakeholders in the health system can pool resources, share knowledge and expertise as they work toward the shared goal of producing better health outcomes.

A third important element to ensure that PHC is prepared to respond to a pandemic is a surveillance system that can track and monitor outbreaks.

All three elements, community engagement, a multisectoral approach and a surveillance mechanism are needed to ensure that PHC generates positive health outcomes in crisis situations. It is the best way to strengthen the responses of communities and countries whose health systems are mostly overwhelmed so that they are able to deliver sufficient care and quality services to all.

These are some of the lessons learned in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those countries that had the strongest PHC systems in place were among the best prepared to meet the demand for primary services, and reduce the pressure on overburdened health services, help the most vulnerable people and directly assist in fighting and containing the virus globally.