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Primary health care

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Title: Primary health care  
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Subject: Nursing in New Zealand, Australian Journal of Primary Health, June Clark, Universal health care, Health 21
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Primary health care

Public ambulatory care facility in Maracay, Venezuela, providing primary care for ambulatory care sensitive conditions.

Primary health care (PHC) refers to "essential health care" that is based on scientifically sound and socially acceptable methods and technology, which make universal health care universally accessible to individuals and families in a community. It is through their full participation and at a cost that the community and the country can afford to maintain at every stage of their development in the spirit of self-reliance and self-determination".[1] In other words, PHC is an approach to health beyond the traditional health care system that focuses on health equity-producing social policy.[2][3] PHC includes all areas that play a role in health, such as access to health services, environment and lifestyle.[4] Thus, primary health care and public health measures, taken together, may be considered as the cornerstones of universal health systems.[5]

This ideal model of health care was adopted in the declaration of the International Conference on Primary Health Care held in health inequalities in all countries. There were many factors that inspired PHC; a prominent example is the Barefoot doctors of China.[4][7][8]


  • Goals and principles 1
  • Approaches 2
    • Selective PHC 2.1
    • GOBI-FFF 2.2
    • PHC and population aging 2.3
    • PHC and mental health 2.4
  • Background and controversies 3
    • Barefoot Doctors 3.1
    • Criticisms 3.2
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7

Goals and principles

A primary health care worker in Saudi Arabia, 2008

The ultimate goal of primary health care is the attainment of better

  • Declaration of Alma-Ata.
  • WHO European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies.

External links

  • WHO (1978). "Alma Ata 1978: Primary Health Care". HFA Sr. (1). 
  • WHO (2008). The World Health Report 2008: Primary Health Care, Now More Than Ever. 
  • McGilvray, James C. (1981). "The Quest for Health and Wholeness". Tübingen: German Institute for Medical Missions.  
  • Socrates Litsios (2002). "The Long and Difficult Road to Alma-Ata: A Personal Reflection". International Journal of Health Services 32 (4): 709–732.  
  • Socrates Litsios (November 1994). "The Christian Medical Commission and the Development of WHO's Primary Health Care Approach". American Journal of Public Health 94 (11): 1884–1893.  
  • Gatrell, A.C. (2002) Geographies of Health: an Introduction, Oxford: Blackwell.

Further reading

  1. ^ a b World Health Organization. Declaration of Alma-Ata. Adopted at the International Conference on Primary Health Care, Alma-Ata, USSR, 6–12 September 1978.
  2. ^ Starfield, Barbara. "Politics, primary healthcare and health." J Epidemiol Community Health 2011;65:653–655 doi:10.1136/jech.2009.102780
  3. ^ Public Health Agency of Canada. About Primary Health Care. Accessed 12 July 2011.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Marcos, Cueto (2004). "The ORIGINS of Primary Health Care and SELECTIVE Primary Health Care.". Am J Public Health. 22 94: 1864–1874.  
  5. ^ White F. Primary health care and public health: foundations of universal health systems. Med Princ Pract 2015 doi:10.1159/000370197
  6. ^ Secretariat, WHO. "International Conference on Primary Health Care, Alma-Ata: twenty-fifth anniversary" (PDF). Report by the Secretariat. WHO. Retrieved 28 March 2011. 
  7. ^ Bulletin of the World Health Organization (October 2008). "Consensus during the Cold War: back to Alma-Ata".  
  8. ^ Bulletin of the World Health Organization (December 2008). "China’s village doctors take great strides".  
  9. ^ "Health topics: Primary health care". World Health Organisation. Retrieved 28 March 2011. 
  10. ^ Braveman, Paula; E. Tarimo (1994). Screening in Primary Health Care: Setting Priorities With Limited Resources. World Health Organization. p. 14.  
  11. ^ Walsh, Julia A., and Kenneth S. Warren. 1980. Selective primary health care:An interim strategy for disease control in developing countries. Social Science & Medicine. Part C: Medical Economics 14 (2):145-163
  12. ^ Rehydration Project. .UNICEF's GOBI-FFF Programs Accessed 16 June 2011.
  13. ^ World Health Organization. World Health Report 2005, Chapter 5: Choosing Interventions to Reduce Specific Risks. Geneva, WHO Press.
  14. ^ World Health Organization. Older people and Primary Health Care (PHC). Accessed 16 June 2011.
  15. ^ Department of Health, Provincial Government of the Western Cape. .Mental Health Primary Health Care (PHC) Services Accessed 16 June 2011.
  16. ^ a b Pfeiffer, J. 2003. International NGOs and primary health care in Mozambique: the need for a new model of collaboration. Social Science & Medicine 56(4):725-738.


See also

In Africa, the PHC system has been extended into isolated rural areas through construction of health posts and centers that offer basic maternal-child health, immunization, nutrition, first aid, and referral services.[16] Implementation of PHC is said to be affected after the introduction of structural adjustment programs by the World Bank.[16]

Although many countries were keen on the idea of primary health care after the Alma Ata conference, the Declaration itself was criticized for being too “idealistic” and “having an unrealistic time table”.[4] More specific approaches to prevent and control diseases - based on evidence of prevalence, morbidity, mortality and feasibility of control (cost-effectiveness) - were subsequently proposed. The best known model was the Selective PHC approach (described above). Selective PHC favoured short-term goals and targeted health investment, but it did not address the social causes of disease. As such, the SPHC approach has been criticized as not following Alma Ata's core principle of everyone's entitlement to health care and health system development.[4]


The "Barefoot doctors" of China were an important inspiration for PHC because they illustrated the effectiveness of having a health care professional at the community level with community ties. Barefoot doctors were a diverse array of village health workers who lived in rural areas and received basic health care training. They stressed rural rather than urban health care, and preventive rather than curative services. They also provided a combination of western and traditional medicines. They had close community ties, were relatively low-cost, and perhaps most importantly they encouraged self-reliance through advocating prevention and hygiene practices.[4] The program experienced a massive expansion of rural medical services in China, with the number of barefoot doctors increasing dramatically between the early 1960s and the Cultural Revolution (1964-1976).

Barefoot Doctors

Background and controversies

[15] Some jurisdictions apply PHC principles in planning and managing their health care services for the detection, diagnosis and treatment of common

PHC and mental health

Given global demographic trends, with the numbers of people age 60 and over expected to double by 2025, PHC approaches have taken into account the need for countries to address the consequences of population ageing. In particular, in the future the majority of older people will be living in developing countries that are often the least prepared to confront the challenges of rapidly ageing societies, including high risk of having at least one chronic non-communicable disease, such as diabetes and osteoporosis.[14] According to WHO, dealing with this increasing burden requires health promotion and disease prevention intervention at community level as well as disease management strategies within health care systems.

PHC and population aging

  • Growth monitoring: the monitoring of how much infants grow within a period, with the goal to understand needs for better early nutrition.[4]
  • Oral rehydration therapy: to combat dehydration associated with diarrhea
  • Breastfeeding
  • Immunization
  • Family planning (birth spacing)
  • Female education
  • Food supplementation: for example, iron and folic acid fortification/supplementation to prevent deficiencies in pregnant women.

Selective PHC approach consists of techniques known collectively under the acronym "GOBI-FFF". It focuses on severe population health problems in certain developing countries, where a few diseases are responsible for high rates of infant and child mortality. Health care planning is employed to see which diseases require most attention and, subsequently, which intervention can be most effectively applied as part of primary care in a least-cost method. The targets and effects of Selective PHC are specific and measurable. The approach aims to prevent most health and nutrition problems before they begin:[12][13]


After the year 1978 Alta Alma Conference, the Rockefeller Foundation held a conference in 1979 at its Bellagio conference center in Italy to address several concerns. Here, the idea of Selective Primary Health Care was introduced as a strategy to complement comprehensive PHC. It was based on a paper by Julia Walsh and Kenneth S. Warren entitled “Selective Primary Health Care, an Interim Strategy for Disease Control in Developing Countries”.[11] This new framework advocated a more economical feasible approach to PHC by only targeting specific areas of health, and choosing the most effective treatment plan in terms of cost and effectiveness. One of the foremost examples of SPHC is "GOBI" (growth monitoring, oral rehydration, breastfeeding, and immunization),[4] focusing on combating the main diseases in developing nations.

Selective PHC

Although the declaration made at the Alma-Ata conference deemed to be convincing and plausible in specifying goals to PHC and achieving more effective strategies, it generated numerous criticisms and reactions worldwide. Many argued the declaration did not have clear targets, was too broad, and was not attainable because of the costs and aid needed. As a result, PHC approaches have evolved in different contexts to account for disparities in resources and local priority health problems; this is alternatively called the Selective Primary Health Care (SPHC) approach.

The primary health care approach has seen significant gains in health were applied even when adverse economic and political conditions prevail.[10]

The hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH-19) in Manado, Indonesia, during Pacific Partnership 2012.


In sum, PHC recognizes that health care is not a short-lived intervention, but an ongoing process of improving people's lives and alleviating the underlying socioeconomic conditions that contribute to poor health. The principles link health and development, advocating political interventions, rather than passive acceptance of economic conditions.[4]

  • Equitable distribution of health care – according to this principle, primary care and other services to meet the main health problems in a community must be provided equally to all individuals irrespective of their gender, age, caste, color, urban/rural location and social class.
  • Community participation – in order to make the fullest use of local, national and other available resources. Community participation was considered sustainable due to its grass roots nature and emphasis on self-sufficiency, as opposed to targeted (or vertical) approaches dependent on international development assistance.[4]
  • Health workforce development – comprehensive health care relies on adequate number and distribution of trained physicians, nurses, allied health professions, community health workers and others working as a health team and supported at the local and referral levels.
  • Use of appropriate technology – medical technology should be provided that is accessible, affordable, feasible and culturally acceptable to the community. Examples of appropriate technology include refrigerators for vaccine cold storage. Less appropriate could include, in many settings, body scanners or heart-lung machines, which benefit only a small minority concentrated in urban areas. They are generally not accessible to the poor, but draw a large share of resources.[4]
  • Multi-sectional approach – recognition that health cannot be improved by intervention within just the formal health sector; other sectors are equally important in promoting the health and self-reliance of communities. These sectors include, at least: agriculture (e.g. food security); education; communication (e.g. concerning prevailing health problems and the methods of preventing and controlling them); housing; public works (e.g. ensuring an adequate supply of safe water and basic sanitation); rural development; industry; community organizations (including voluntary organizations, etc.).

Behind these elements lies a series of basic principles identified in the Alma Ata Declaration that should be formulated in national policies in order to launch and sustain PHC as part of a comprehensive health system and in coordination with other sectors:[1]

  • reducing exclusion and social disparities in health (universal coverage reforms);
  • organizing health services around people's needs and expectations (service delivery reforms);
  • integrating health into all sectors (public policy reforms);
  • pursuing collaborative models of policy dialogue (leadership reforms); and
  • increasing stakeholder participation.


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