Prioritizing investment in primary health care for universal health care: WHO – Bangladesh

SEAR / PR / 1776

New Delhi, December 14, 2021 –

Given that primary health care (PHC) plays a vital role in meeting the health needs of people near where they live and work, reducing care costs, increasing equity, and improving pandemic preparedness and response The World Health Organization has urged member countries in the WHO Southeast Asia region to increase investment in strengthening primary health care as the basis for universal health care (UHC) and health security.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw that countries with strong primary health systems were able to respond better and faster to the pandemic while maintaining basic services with minimal disruption,” said Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO Regional Director South East Asia, at a high-level meeting.

The Regional Director spoke at a high-level virtual meeting attended by member country health ministers to commemorate UHC Day and launch the Southeast Regional Strategy for PHC. At the meeting, ministers stressed the importance of the PHC approach in achieving resilience in UHC and health systems. The health ministers pointed out both the timeliness and the value of the regional PHC strategy in order to advance the necessary PHC-oriented transformation across the region.

The regional strategy builds on examples from virtually every country in the region of PHC empowerment efforts and identifies a set of 12 interdependent strategic actions to enable countries to strengthen PHC policy, implementation, monitoring and learning .

“PHC is key to unlocking UHC – by addressing equity and efficiency concerns at the same time. We need a paradigm shift to ensure that primary health care is provided throughout the life course with an emphasis on prevention and wellbeing that caters to the broad needs and expectations of people and communities, ”said the Regional Director.

It is a priority for the region to ensure that communities and individuals receive the health services they need through universal health care without financial hardship.

Around a quarter of the world’s population and a disproportionately high proportion of poor live in the Southeast Asia region of the WHO. The incidence of catastrophic spending, when households are forced to spend more than 10% of household income on health care expenses, is increasing. The region is also facing other health-related challenges, including the growing burden of chronic diseases, the persistence of communicable diseases, the increasing threats related to climate change and the impact of the ongoing pandemic. Reinforced PHC systems across the region can drive progress in these areas while ensuring that the needs of the poor and the marginalized are prioritized.

While health care coverage in the region has improved from 49% a decade ago to 61%, the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed progress, underscoring the need to prioritize investments in solid basic health care.

“One of the key lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is that the best defense against outbreaks and other health emergencies is resilient primary health care as the foundation of universal health care. Many of the countries that have responded most effectively to COVID-19 are those that have invested appropriately in PHC, “said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at the high-level meeting.

The regional PHC strategy is a direct response to the declaration of the Ministers of Health of the Southeast Asia Region at the 74th Oriented Health Systems.

“Now is the time to invest in health systems and align them with strong PHC services that fulfill the right to health and address the health, social and economic challenges we face,” said the Regional Director.

WHO reaffirms its commitment to support member countries in developing their health systems and moving towards universal health coverage and the Sustainable Development Goals to create a fairer and healthier world.

Learn more about the regional strategy for primary health care in Southeast Asia

Further information on the declaration of health ministers at the 74th Regional Committee a-rc74-r1-eng.pdf (

Media contacts

Shamila Sharma

Commissioner for public information and representation of interests

WHO Regional Office for Southeast Asia

Mobile: +919818287256 Email: [email protected]

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