The shift to primary health care

Medicine Cabinet
Teodoro B. Padilla

ALMOST 10 years ago, the global health community made a resounding call to revitalize a declaration which required all health systems to put people at the center of health care. Known as the Alma Ata Declaration, it placed primary care under the global spotlight as the means to achieve better health for all.

The Alma Ata Declaration reaffirmed that the promotion and protection of the health of the people is crucial to sustained economic and social development, and contributes to a better quality of life and global security.

The publication Primary Health Care Now More Than Ever said that due to globalization and the people’s increasing demand for improved health, health systems must respond better — and faster. It boldly stated that primary health care could do just that.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines primary health care as essential health care based on practical, scientifically sound and socially acceptable methods and technology made universally accessible to individuals and families in the community.

Primary health care puts focus on the community as it should serve as the first level of contact of individuals, the family, and community with the national health system, therefore bringing health care as close as possible to where people live and work.

According to the WHO, the goals of primary health care are to reduce exclusion and social disparities; organize health services around people’s needs and expectations; integrate health into all sectors; pursue models of policy dialogue; and increase stakeholder participation.

One of the models often talked about when it comes to primary health care is the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom. British Ambassador Asif Ahmad described the journey of a person who suddenly becomes ill in his country.

The first thing this person can do is reach for the phone and get in contact with the NHS Helpline. Right there and then, medical advice will be given and a decision will be made if the person needs to be referred to emergency care. Otherwise, the patient could be advised to avail of his next regular appointment to discuss health concerns face-to-face with a general practitioner. In some instances, these general practitioners make house calls. 

Mr. Ahmad said that while there may be delays in the British health system, there is not a situation when their citizens could not access health care. And he may be right.

The NHS in England handles more than a million patients every 36 hours. Established in 1948, its intention is to make health care available to all, regardless of one’s economic status. Among its core principles are: that it meets the needs of everyone; that it be free at the point of delivery; and that it be based on clinical need, not ability to pay.

The British ambassador believes that the system can be replicated in the Philippines one way or another. For one, he observed that the country could maximize technology, such as social networking and mobile connectivity, to enhance telemedicine to reach patients living in geographically remote communities. 

Mr. Ahmad will be one of the panelists in the forum “Health for Juan and Juana 2: Moving Forward with the Philippine Agenda” on May 18, which has the theme “Bringing Health to Juan and Juana: Universal Healthcare in the Communities.”

It will bring together various sectors that are involved in shaping the health system to put into action recommendations on establishing universal health care as a crucial part of the medium-term development plan. The forum will also demonstrate a whole-of-government, whole-of-society approach towards health with the participation of government, local government units, development partners, patient groups, and the private sector, among others.

Medicine Cabinet is a column of the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP), representing the research-based medicines and vaccines sector in the country. The author, Teodoro Padilla, is the executive director of PHAP. He is a cum laude graduate of Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of the Philippines and acquired a masteral degree from Kellogg School of Management. E-mail the author at medicinecabinet@phap.org.ph.

Teodoro B. Padilla is a cum laude graduate of Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of the Philippines and further acquired a masteral degree from Kellogg School of Management.

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