Almost half a century ago, policy leaders issued the Declaration of Alma Ata and embraced the promise of health for all through primary health care (PHC). That vision has inspired generations. Countries throughout the world—rich and poor—have struggled to build health systems anchored in strong PHC where they were needed most. The world has waited long enough for high-performing PHC to become more than an aspiration; it is now time to deliver.
The COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic has facilitated the reckoning for that shared failure—but it has also created a once-in-a-generation opportunity for transformational health system changes. The pandemic has shown policy makers and ordinary citizens why health systems matter and what happens when they fail. Bold reforms now can prepare health systems for future crises and bring goals such as universal health coverage within reach.
PHC holds the key to these transformations. To fulfill that promise, however, the walk has to finally match the talk.
Walking the Talk: Reimagining Primary Health Care after COVID-19 outlines how to get there. It charts an agenda to reimagined, fit-for-purpose PHC. It asks three questions about health systems reform built around PHC: Why? What? How? The characteristics of high-performing PHC are precisely those that are most critical for managing the pressures coming to bear on health systems in the post-COVID world.
The challenges include future outbreaks and other emergent threats, as well as long-term structural trends that are reshaping the environments in which systems operate in non-crisis times. Walking the Talk highlights three sets of megatrends that will increasingly affect health systems in the coming decades:
- Demographic and epidemiological shifts
- Changes in technology
- Citizens' evolving expectations for health care.
Reimagined PHC systems will be equipped through optimized system design, financing, and delivery to ensure high-quality services, care to address patients' needs, fairness and accountability, and resilient systems.