Primary Health Care (PHC) is the heart and soul of medicine. It is the foundation of every health care system: the first contact and ongoing link between people and their health providers. PHC is how individuals and families connect with the health care system throughout their lives, for everything from prenatal checkups and routine immunizations to the treatment of illness and the management of chronic conditions. When PHC works, people are able to get the care they need to stay healthy. The vast majority of a community’s health needs can be met by a well functioning primary care system.
Yet, an estimated 400 million people around the world lack access to quality services at this basic level of care. Despite its crucial importance, comprehensive PHC is often the weakest link in a country’s health system: underfunded, understaffed, and deprioritized. Being unable to rely on public services forces people to seek unqualified providers and paying cash for healthcare pushes people into poverty.
Development resources tend to be concentrated on specific diseases and issues, an approach which can generate significant progress on certain fronts, yet leave the underlying health system starved for support. The result is a primary care system that is dangerously fragile and fragmented. As the Ebola crisis in West Africa exposed all too clearly, the consequences can be devastating.