Over the last one and half years, much policy attention has been drawn toward preventing the spread of Covid-19. This includes rapid testing, tracing, advanced surveillance, use of personal protective equipment and physical distancing, along with enabling hospitals and human resources to cope up with care needs and overwhelmed intensive care units. However, the pandemic has also had serious effects on many people who have not been infected with the virus. Many non-covid patients did not have access to the care they needed during the pandemic.
People who already have chronic illnesses are already vulnerable to complications and death from Covid-19 and face significant indirect health consequences. People with chronic illnesses need ongoing and accessible routine care but the pandemic has disrupted this essential care. Examples of such indirect health effects include delay in diagnosis, cancellation of care, neglect and delays.
The pandemic has highlighted that for the health system to be resilient to health shocks like Covid-19, policy responses must address both direct and indirect threats. Primary health care at the forefront of all health systems plays an important role in this regard. Strengthening this front line by expanding the role of primary health care helps relieve the pressure on the entire health care system by reducing the burden on the hospitals, apart from protecting the individuals from indirect threats from pandemic and other health crises.
Primary health care ensures continuity of care for all patients. In addition to providing temporary care and response to acute health problems, robust primary health care provides routine, preventive, patient-centric care. It also acts as a simple access point to the health system. These services are needed to ensure that everyone’s concerns, fears and needs are heard and that potential health problems are managed in the initial phase.
As a place of first contact, primary health care provides accessible, comprehensive, continuous, and coordinated health care, improving prevention, detection and care of people and helping them manage their own health issues. It has the full potential to improve the health of people at all socio-economic levels and reduce unnecessary use of more expensive professional services. These positive results are because primary health care is the first contact for the needs of most patients, with providers having complete access to the patient’s history coordinating other medical services and care as needed.
What have we learned? Active primary health care during and after a pandemic can provide comprehensive and continuum of care in three main ways. First, it maintains continuity of care through chronic care management, disease prevention activities, health education for chronic disease self-management and community involvement in the context of chronic diseases. Second, it supports mild cases of Covid-19 and provides a first line of defense by diagnosing, tracking, and preventing the spread of the outbreak. It promotes the dissemination of public health measures and provides psychological support to people. Lastly, it can assist people facing poor health as a result of the direct and indirect effects of the crisis. Solid primary health care is perfect for meeting the growing need for care.
Expanding the role of primary health care helps relieve the pressure on the entire health care system by reducing the burden on the hospitals, apart from protecting individuals from indirect threats from pandemic and other health crises.
For all of these reasons, primary health care should be the foundation for global response and recovery in the current and future public health crisis. This is the most comprehensive, efficient, and effective way to protect the health of individuals and communities.
Universal public health systems rooted in solid, inclusive, accessible, and socially and culturally oriented primary health care is one of the main pillars of the society that respects the most fundamental rights of the people. In uncertain times like these, in the face of a pandemic of this scale, it is critical to optimize primary health care to maintain essential health care services and address the health needs of the vulnerable groups. Primary health care should be central to these efforts and it is critical for countries to invest in primary health care.
There is no room for ideas that cast a shadow over human life.
Saugat Pratap KC is a social science researcher. The views expressed in the article belong solely to the author. He can be reached at [email protected]