People at the center: PHC at PATH

February 11, 2021 by PATH

PATH’s new Primary Health Care (PHC) program links expertise across essential health areas.

Aida (left) and Mame Fama Male (right in blue) are community health educators in Pikine, Senegal, who educate women about their family planning options. PATH/Gabe Bienczycki

Aida and Mame Fama Male work as community health educators in Pikine, Senegal, educating women about their family planning options. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

Primary health care (PHC) includes the most basic package of essential health services and products that are needed to prevent disease, promote health, and manage illness—covering about 80 percent of a person’s health needs over their lifetime.

That’s why PHC systems are widely recognized as central to the pursuit of health equity. At every stage of life, access to integrated primary health care makes a meaningful difference in a person’s health and wellbeing.

In both communities and health facilities, PHC is an entry point for women managing reproductive options or seeking support during a pregnancy. It’s where parents access information and resources for their newborns and infants and take their kids to get vaccinated. It’s where people access screening and prevention tools for sexually transmitted infections and noncommunicable diseases.

Our new PHC program unites these health areas in the development of people-centered, data-driven systems that give everyone a fair chance at health.

Over a 40-year history, PATH has contributed to system and service innovations across nearly every health area under the PHC umbrella—including early childhood development; maternal, newborn, and child health and nutrition; sexual and reproductive health; and prevention, management, and treatment of diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria, as well as noncommunicable diseases like cancer and diabetes.

Now, our new PHC program unites these health areas in the development of people-centered, data-driven systems that give everyone a fair chance at health.

PATH will continue to drive innovation in each of these individual health areas, as well as strengthening the links between them. We’ll do this through end-to-end product development, system innovation, and policy advocacy to support countries, multisector partners, and communities in reimagining what primary health care is and can be.

Pandemic proofing our future

Prior to COVID-19, momentum was building for stronger primary health care systems. With the pandemic’s arrival—which shocked health systems, disrupted societies, and jeopardized global and national health goals—the importance of PHC has been underscored.

Countries with stronger primary health care systems and decisive leadership have been able to act swiftly and mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on the lives of their citizens. However, for many other countries, community health needs have only deepened as the pandemic has exposed fault lines in primary care systems and services.

Our new PHC program is designed to support the pandemic response and to help build back better post-COVID-19, with the ultimate goals of inclusive, accessible health services that are responsive and resilient to future pandemic “shocks”. Through partnerships in several hard-hit settings, we’ve applied a focus on maintaining essential health services, adapting to a rapidly changing environment through creative responses and applying what works to transform health systems.

Broad expertise, people-centered focus

The new PHC program will be led by Dr. Kimberly Green. Dr. Green brings a breadth of technical expertise from advocating for community-led, differentiated HIV and tuberculosis services, supporting new ways of delivering hypertension services in urban settings, to increasing access to sexual reproductive health among youth, to extending an essential maternal, newborn, and child package in refugee and border settings and helping to advance mental health services during the pandemic.

She also brings a deep commitment to a people-centered approach to PHC that can be adapted to different communities. Dr. Green says that “now is the moment to invest in primary health care. Health equity means inclusivity and addressing underlying stigma, discrimination, and policy barriers to access. It is much more than a building with four walls.”

“In my new role, I’m inspired by the promise of primary health care to promote health and wellbeing for all populations throughout their lives. COVID-19 has placed in stark relief health inequities and the need to do things differently—from increasing options for self-care and telemedicine to clinical task-shifting to leveraging digital tools and data-driven systems that reinforce health promotion and access to culturally-centered and community-informed care.”

18116   Catherine Mulenga, nurse in charge for the children’s ward, in the Children’s Inpatient Ward for Malnutrition, Kitwe Central Hospital, a location associated with the Thrive Project

Catherine Mulenga, nurse in charge of the children’s ward for malnutrition at Kitwe Central Hospital in Zambia. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

“The year ahead will be challenging, but it will also provide new opportunities to advance people-centered primary health care and its financing through universal health coverage,” says Dr. Nanthalile Mugala, PATH's Chief of Africa Region. “PATH has a vital role to play in ensuring equitable access to essential health services and in transforming the future of primary health care.”

Alongside Dr. Green, more than 100 members of PATH’s PHC program, and other allied programs across PATH, will continue closing gaps in health access and affordability and working toward universal health coverage by 2030.

If you’re interested in learning more about how you can engage please contact us.

“PATH has a vital role to play in ensuring equitable access to essential health services and in transforming the future of primary health care.”
— Nanthalile Mugala, Chief of Africa Region