Our Three Key Takeaways from WHA72


Last month, the global health community convened in Geneva for the 72nd World Health Assembly (WHA). We met to discuss “how we can create a healthier, safer, fairer world,” as Dr. Tedros said to delegates as he opened the meeting.

This year, universal health coverage (UHC) was the central theme at WHA72, and discussions focused on how to successfully achieve health for all, including for the most vulnerable populations. Discussions throughout the week revealed a strong desire from delegates to strengthen primary health care systems as a critical first step to UHC, and Member States, policymakers, civil society leaders, and donors all emphasized the need for more and better data for countries to improve primary health care systems.  

Below, we spotlight our three key takeaways from WHA, drawing on a side event PHCPI convened titled, “Primary Health Care for All, Starting with Better Measurement”:

1. Countries Are Leading the Way

Conversations throughout the week demonstrated the importance of political will to achieve the world’s most pressing challenges, including universal health coverage by the year 2030. These discussions built on previous conversations on what’s needed to achieve health for all, starting with strong primary health care.

In October 2018, the global health community convened at the Global Conference on Primary Health Care in Astana to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the Declaration of Alma-Ata and renew its commitment to primary health care. Ministries of Health from 12 countries launched their Vital Signs Profiles, a tool developed in collaboration with PHCPI and that provides a unique snapshot of country primary health care systems.

The Vital Signs Profiles measure primary health care across four pillars – finance, capacity, performance, and equity – and indicate where systems are strong and where they are weak.  The profiles are a conversation starter for ministries and planning offices about the types of investments and policies that will be necessary to provide strong primary health care to all.

At WHA, the importance of primary health care resonated throughout the halls of the Palais des Nations, where Member States committed to implementing the Declaration of Astana – recognizing the crucial role strong primary health care plays in securing and ensuring people’s health at every age and every stage of life.

At PHCPI’s side event, we learned more about how countries are leading the way to improve primary health care, including by using tools like the Vital Signs Profiles. Dr. Mercy Mwangangi, UHC Advisor to the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Kenya shared that the country’s Vital Signs Profile is helping the country provide a roadmap toward more granular analysis and a pathway toward improvement. Honorable Patrick C. Ndimubanzi, Minister of State in Charge of Public Health and Primary Health Care, Rwanda similarly shared how the process of developing a Vital Signs Profile helped his country identify areas of strength and challenges, gaps in necessary data, and priority areas for improvement.

2. Better Measurement Can Fuel Health for All

“You don’t know who you are leaving behind if you aren’t measuring it,” stated Dr. Githinji Gitahi, Co-Chair of the UHC2030 Steering Committee & Group Chief Executive Officer of AMREF Health Africa. Leaving no one behind on the path to achieving UHC is a top priority not just for UHC2030 – a multi-stakeholder platform which promotes collaborative working in countries and globally on health systems strengthening – but also for PHCPI.

At PHCPI’s side event, Dr. Peter Salama, Executive Director of UHC and the Life Course, WHO, pointed out that in many ways, awareness of the importance of measurement is the biggest difference between the days of Alma-Ata and now. Data allows us to identify who is at risk for being left behind.

Despite the importance of measurement for primary health care improvement, many countries still lack comprehensive data to identify weaknesses, understand their causes, and strategically direct resources to address them. PHCPI is working with countries to change this by prioritizing data collection and use, but there’s plenty of work still ahead.

Beyond the PHCPI side event, numerous conversations throughout the week emphasized the urgent need for quality data to inform decision-making. For example, at a side event organized by Save the Children, civil society leaders shared that they are using data to hold governments accountable to improve the availability and quality of health services.

Good data has many purposes: it can help leaders identify and address areas for improvement, enable advocates to track progress, and equip citizens to hold leaders accountable.

3. Our Moment is Now

In the past four decades, we have made many global health gains, but have there is still a long way to go. Today, at least half of the world’s population does not have access to essential health services, and out-of-pocket expenses push nearly 100 million people into extreme poverty every year. 

We are already seeing countries rise to the challenge and mobilize resources to ensure the promise of the Declaration of Astana. Kenya’s government started UHC pilot programmes in four counties to ensure that people can more readily access health services and essential medicines in their communities. Following this pilot phase, the government is looking to scale up these UHC reforms to the entire country.  

It’s bold steps like this one that will help inspire action as we near the High-Level Meeting on UHC in September – the next critical moment in the world’s journey to achieve health for all. The monumental challenges have been placed in front of the global community, and it’s now up to us to work together to make health for all a reality.