UNGA 74: A Breakthrough Moment for PHC in the UHC Agenda

“Health is critical in any ecosystem and primary health care is at the center of it all.” -Beth Tritter, Executive Director, PHCPI

UNGA 74 opened with a historic moment as world leaders championed the central role of primary health care (PHC) in achieving the most ambitious and comprehensive set of health commitments ever adopted. PHC was at the heart of the political declaration UN Member States adopted at the world’s first High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage (HLM-UHC). This exciting declaration will be the roadmap for the actions the world will take to make health for all a reality by 2030.

Both the HLM and declaration were grounded in the seeds first planted at Alma Ata in 1978 and reinvigorated in Astana last year, which established PHC as the cornerstone of universal health coverage (UHC). At the HLM and throughout UNGA 74, heads of state and key global stakeholders reiterated that building strong primary health care systems is the way to meet the vast majority of people’s health needs in their lifetime; in other words, there is no UHC without PHC.

From the floor of the General Assembly to new research timed to the HLM to toasts at community receptions, we heard global experts urge countries to take the following actions to unlock the full potential of PHC on the path to health for all:

  • Spend more—and spend better—on primary health care. Both the WHO’s 2019 UHC Monitoring Report, the foremost tool for assessing progress toward UHC, and a study published in The Lancet found that the world is not spending enough on primary health care to achieve global goals. As Amref CEO Githinji Gitahi explained in this year’s Goalkeepers report, the good news is even countries with limited resources can make huge strides by spending smarter to provide basic health services near where people live and work, and by leveraging new technologies to make investments go further. Ultimately, the human and financial cost of not investing in PHC is much, much higher.
  • Collect better data to guide PHC improvement. You can’t change what you can’t see, and for health systems this means increased access for underserved populations and strengthened service provision can be held back. Speakers at like-minded events hosted by The Rockefeller Foundation and PHPCI and Amref underscored how good data are the guideposts for delivering the right health interventions to the right people at the right time. At our reception, high-level representatives from Guinea-Bissau, Nepal and Kenya gave powerful testimonies of how new tools like the Vital Signs Profiles are helping revolutionize PHC in their countries.
  • Walk the talk when it comes to community engagement. At a unique dialogue on the heels of the HLM, activists and donors met to discuss how to drive community-led financing and improvements for UHC. It’s communities themselves who ultimately know what they need, and donors and global institutions must not only follow – but actively support – their leadership in designing strong PHC systems. This includes equipping local and national leaders with our best resources and our best data to fully achieve the “U” in UHC: comprehensive and quality health care that is accessible to everyone – no matter your economic status, your gender, your age or where you live.

UNGA 74 was just the start. Now countries and global stakeholders must turn what we’ve learned and what we’ve committed to into action. And in the coming months, there are several key moments to build the drumbeat of support for #PHCforUHC, share strategies and celebrate progress – including at the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25 in November and on 12 December for Universal Health Coverage Day.

High-level dialogues have never been and will never be enough to ensure progress. Today, we have 11 years to translate catchy slogans and a political declaration into a future in which where you live does not determine whether you live. With smarter spending, more and better data, and community-led strategies, strong primary health care can become a reality for every person, everywhere.