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Primary healthcare: healthy lives, sustainable futures

This editorial opinion was written by WHO Representative to the South Pacific Dr Corinne Capuano in support of World Health Day. It is republished from the 7 April 2019 edition of Fiji’s ‘The Sunday Times’.

At heart, primary healthcare is about people. It is about doctors and nurses at community health centers, the people they care for, and the communities they protect. It is also about bringing care close to where people live, to help them improve their health and maintain their well-being.

It is so much more than seeing a community nurse for a vaccination, or a doctor for your regular checkup. Primary healthcare can be the most powerful tool a country has to improve the health of its people. It can meet most of our healthcare needs, respond to the conditions in which we live, work and learn, and empower individuals, families and communities to take charge of their well-being.

Today is World Health Day, and the World Health Organization is working globally to highlight the importance of strong primary healthcare. Why? Because without our health we have nothing – it’s what matters most. Health is a human right and primary healthcare is the smart investment. Investing in primary healthcare improves health, saves lives and costs.

Fijian Minister of Health and Medical Services Dr Iferemi Waqainabete, Dr Corinne Capuano and WHO Western Pacific Regional Director Dr Takeshi Kasai alongside the doctors and nurses of Korolevu Health Center. WHO/Will Seal

When it comes to health budgets, primary healthcare gives us the greatest return, both social and financial. It is the strongest tool we have to address the complex health challenges facing Fiji and the Pacific.

If correctly resourced, good quality primary healthcare can prevent, identify and manage illnesses early to reduce the burden on the health system. We can prevent noncommunicable diseases like diabetes, before they become serious and therefore more costly for individuals, families and countries.

Primary healthcare workers are connected with the community and can therefore address issues at their source, provide relevant advice, monitor progress, report on trends and provide early referrals to hospitals when signs of trouble emerge.

Similarly, health workers at community health centers and clinics are the first line of defence and response during outbreaks and emergencies. When new health threats emerge, these are the professionals who first report issues and the one’s communities and governments turn to for protection.

Investment in primary healthcare can build resilience against the health impacts of a changing climate – such as increasingly frequent and extreme weather events, and threats to safety drinking-water, food security and housing. Health workers at the local level are uniquely placed to be the first response, and ensure their communities are equipped (especially beforehand) with information that will protect them health .

Primary healthcare staff at Korolevu Health Center on Fiji’s Coral Coast alongside WHO Western Pacific Regional Director Dr Takeshi Kasai, FMinister of Health and Medical Services approval Dr Iferemi Waqainabete, and Dr. Corinne Capuano. WHO/Will Seal

Most importantly, primary health care workers know their community. They have a continuing and trusted relationship with their patients and are familiar with their history. Equally, they know the local environment, the traditions and practices of their communities. Knowing the full picture improves care and saves money.

So, we know that primary healthcare is one of the most effective and efficient ways to provide health for all. A health system with strong primary healthcare delivers better health outcomes, is cost-effective and improves quality of care.

To truly have impactprimary healthcare must of course be properly resourced and staffed – but – it must also be supported, valued and used by people. In most instances, the local health center should be your first port of call; the place where you receive the most of your care.

This World Health Day, we encourage you, the people of Fiji, to reach out to your local health centre. Meet the health workers in your area. A well utilized primary healthcare system tends to attract more investment, and if used, will only improve – particularly as staff get to know you and understand your health needs and those of your family and community.

Using and valuing local health services will ensure everyone has a healthy life and a sustainable future.

In the Pacific, health for all can only be achieved through strong primary healthcare. To celebrate World Health Day, we also speak with health leaders from across the Pacific, to hear exactly why primary healthcare is so important in their respective countries:

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