On October 31, Amref Health Africa and UNICEF held a parallel session on strengthening community platforms for Primary Health Care (PHC) at the 2nd International Conference on Maternal, New-born and Child Health in Africa, convened by the African Union Commission.
The meeting was co-chaired by Dr Githinji Gitahi, Amref Health Africa Group CEO, Dr Sam Oboche, UNICEF’s Senior Health Specialist, Dr Mariame Sylla, Chief Health and Nutrition, Gabriele Fontana, Regional Advisor for Health, Eastern and Southern Region and Susie Villeneuve, Regional Advisor for Health Systems Strengthening, West and Central Africa.
The speakers acknowledged the importance of strengthening community platforms, including recognition and remuneration of Community Health Workers (CHWs), underscoring its relevance in the realisation of Universal Health Coverage (UHC).
The session was a build-up on the global momentum for the revitalisation of PHC to elevate the critical role of robust community platforms in enhanced delivery of integrated reproductive, maternal, neonatal and child health interventions.
Dr Gitahi who is also the co-chair of UHC 2030 challenged the forum to lobby the regional governments through the African Union to promote primary health care.
“We can only achieve tangible improvement in the health sector if African heads of state, like we have seen in Ethiopia, take it upon themselves to support community health programmes,” he said.
Forty years on, PHC remains relevant as foundational to health service delivery.
Its underlying principles includes equitable distribution, community involvement, focus on prevention, appropriate technology and a multi-sectoral approach.
Despite evidence on the tremendous benefits of PHC, its implementation in the transformation of health systems has been slow.
“This is partly because policymakers have not recognised this fact. In many of their documents, they have degraded this fact only to mention that ‘some evidence’ exists,” noted Dr Gitahi.
Other factors to blame include inadequate political will, political instability, multiple disease-oriented programmes, focus on specialised care, grossly under-funded health care systems and emerging, persisting epidemics have impeded progress in achieving comprehensive PHC.
Even so, there is a general consensus that when community-based platforms are strengthened, supported and institutionalised, they would increase the coverage of essential health care interventions through the delivery of an integrated package of services.
Lessons from the response to the Ebola crisis show the critical role community level frontline workers play in containing disease outbreaks through early case identification, tracing and monitoring.
The forum comes a week after world leaders endorsed a new declaration in Astana, Kazakhstan that emphasises the critical role of PHC, refocusing efforts to ensure that everyone everywhere can enjoy the highest possible attainable standard of health.
In an effort to bridge health gaps in Africa, Amref Health Africa has stepped up a campaign for the integration of CHWs into the formal health workforce and compensation for the work they do.