Essential health services continue to face significant disruptions three years into pandemic: PAHO regional report – PAHO/WHO

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Washington, DC, 31 July 2023 (PAHO)- The Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr Jarbas Barbosa, called on countries of the Americas to maintain investments in health, promote innovation in primary care with a focus on digital technologies, and move from theory to practice through specific policies to overcome challenges in access to health services.

“At PAHO we view Primary health care as a strategic approach that addresses the needs of people where they live. Our strategy for the expansion of primary health care in the 21st Century is critical to address barriers in access, ensuring continuity in the provision of health services,” Dr Barbosa” said at the opening of the virtual event “Strategies to ensure access to health services: overcoming barriers and guaranteeing continuity“.

Two PAHO regional reports on essential health services were presented during the meeting, providing a deeper insight into the wide range of factors that act as barriers to access to primary health care, while taking into account the specific characteristics and needs of territories and populations.

PAHO analysis reveals that, three years after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, disruptions to essential health services remain a significant challenge in multiple countries of the Americas. In this context, a profound transformation is needed to improve health system response and to close gaps in access and availability of human resources, infrastructure, supplies, equipment and financing.

The first report “Analyze and Overcome the Access Barriers to Strengthening Primary Health Care“, presents the results of the collaboration between PAHO and its Member States to examine ways to address access barriers to primary health care and formulate innovative policies to reduce and eliminate them, with particular emphasis on vulnerable populations.

The second, “Fourth round of the national survey on the continuity of essential health services during the COVID-19 pandemic“, presents the results of national surveys on essential health services during the pandemic. It provides an overview on health system disruptions and analyses data patterns from the 17 countries and territories that participated.

“Even before the pandemic began, we faced unequal access and a variety of barriers which prevented us from achieving true equality,” Dr. Barbosa said.  Prior to COVID-19, approximately 29.3% of the population in the Americas had unmet health needs, affecting some 295 million people.”

Both reports concur that the arrival of the pandemic significantly intensified these barriers, resulting in disruptions to both supply and demand of essential health services. This reversed the progress made over the past 20 years towards universal access to health and universal coverage in the Region of the Americas.

“Primary health care is key to overcoming these challenges. It is the lifeblood of resilient health systems and universal health and key to ensuring better preparedness for future crises and greater equity in health services. It is also fundamental to reversing pandemic trends in maternal and child mortality rates, increasing immunization coverage and accelerating the elimination of communicable diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis and malaria,” Dr Barbosa remarked.

Today’s event is the first in a series of webinars on primary health care that will discuss strategies to ensure access to health services in the region.

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