by Dennis Cherian, Associate Vice President for Global Health and Nutrition at Corus International
The COVID-19 pandemic plagued the world for over two years, disrupting lives, jobs, supply chains, health systems and more. According to the U.N., development gains in some low- and middle-income countries regressed tremendously, pushing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) back by a decade.
While medical professionals raced to keep up with the novel virus and save lives across the globe, SDG3, or ensuring good health and well-being for all, had to take a temporary backseat. Now that critical advancements in COVID-19 prevention and treatment have been made, how do we get back on track to achieve SDG3?
Focus on Primary Health Care
A health system with a strong primary health care foundation yields better health and wellbeing. Health facilities and workers administering quality primary care are the first line of defense against disease outbreak. They have deeper connections to patients, understanding their lives and health care needs because they share similar contexts.
These close relationships improve care and build trust in the health system, creating mutual accountability and ownership that perpetually reinforce the strengthening of the system and the health of the community.
Focusing time and resources on strengthening primary health care systems is not a flashy, innovative way to get back on track for SGD3, but it is the most practical. And though it may seem obvious to global health practitioners, it’s not something governments or the international donor community fund enough. When they do, that funding often doesn’t reach remote communities.
Maximizing Faith-based Health Networks for Primary Care
Investing in strengthening the capacity of local faith-based health networks to provide quality primary health care services would be a cost-effective solution, especially to reach remote communities. Faith-based health partners provide key infrastructure, community outreach and health care service delivery where needed most in a health system, contributing significantly to equitable access to health care.
Ministries of health around the world already trust and rely heavily on them to fill gaps in health services. For example, in many African countries facing extreme shortages of health workers, faith-based organizations (FBOs), like Christian Health Associations (CHAs), are estimated to provide between 30 – 70 percent of health care services.
Local heath FBOs, by nature of their religious affiliation, are often more trusted in rural communities. They are well-positioned to positively change entrenched health care seeking attitudes and behaviors which are greatly influenced by socio-cultural, religious and traditional practices. In addition to meeting the physical health needs of individuals, health FBOs also strive to treat the person holistically – looking after their mental, social and spiritual well-being, which is a fundamental approach of primary health care and integral to achieving universal health coverage and people-centered health care.
To get back on track to progress towards SDG3, international donors and governments should invest more in health FBOs, like SANRU and ACHAP, to strengthen locally led health systems and leverage collective assets to further accelerate equitable health care service delivery.
IMA World Health, in Concert with Corus International, is a Silver Sponsor of the 2022 CCIH Conference.