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Health for All and Primary Health Care, 1978–2018: A Historical Perspective on Policies and Programs Over 40 Years  

Susan B. Rifkin

In 1978, at an international conference in Kazakhstan, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund put forward a policy proposal entitled “Primary Health Care” (PHC). Adopted by all the World Health Organization member states, the proposal catalyzed ideas and experiences by which governments and people began to change their views about how good health was obtained and sustained. The Declaration of Alma-Ata (as it is known, after the city in which the conference was held) committed member states to take action to achieve the WHO definition of health as “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Arguing that good health was not merely the result of biomedical advances, health-services provision, and professional care, the declaration stated that health was a human right, that the inequality of health status among the world’s populations was unacceptable, and that people had a right and duty to become involved in the planning and implementation of their own healthcare. It proposed that this policy be supported through collaboration with other government sectors to ensure that health was recognized as a key to development planning. Under the banner call “Health for All by the Year 2000,” WHO and the United Nations Children’s Fund set out to turn their vision for improving health into practice. They confronted a number of critical challenges. These included defining PHC and translating PHC into practice, developing frameworks to translate equity into action, experiencing both the potential and the limitations of community participation in helping to achieve the WHO definition of health, and seeking the necessary financing to support the transformation of health systems. These challenges were taken up by global, national, and nongovernmental organization programs in efforts to balance the PHC vision with the realities of health-service delivery. The implementation of these programs had varying degrees of success and failure. In the future, PHC will need to address to critical concerns, the first of which is how to address the pressing health issues of the early 21st century, including climate change, control of noncommunicable diseases, global health emergencies, and the cost and effectiveness of humanitarian aid in the light of increasing violent disturbances and issues around global governance. The second is how PHC will influence policies emerging from the increasing understanding that health interventions should be implemented in the context of complexity rather than as linear, predictable solutions.

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Public Health and the UN Sustainable Development Goals  

Claire E. Brolan

The COVID-19 crisis—the most catastrophic international public health emergency since the Spanish influenza 100 years ago—provides impetus to review the significance of public and global health in the context of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) achievement. When countries unanimously adopted the 17 SDGs in September 2015, stakeholders had mixed views on global health goal SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-Being). Concern arose over the feasibility of achieving SDG 3 by 2030 when countries pursued its nine targets and four means of implementation with sixteen other ambitious global goals. Nonetheless, health surely cuts across the SDG framework: for instance, the underlying health determinants are expressed in many goals as is urban and planetary health. Although health (and its different constructions) is central to overall SDG achievement, SDG success depends on a paradigm shift toward whole-of-government policy and planning. Indeed, the 2030 Agenda echoes calls for a Health in All Policies (HiAP) approach to public health programming. This depends on another paradigm shift in public health tertiary education, practitioner training, and policy skills development within and beyond ministries of health. Added to this are the underlying problematics around SDG health financing, human resources for health, health target and indicator localization for equitable country responses that leave no one behind, strengthening civil registration and vital statistics systems for inclusive and accountable health implementation, and the sidelining of human rights from SDG metrics. While COVID-19 has derailed SDG efforts, it could also be the ultimate game changer for intergenerational human and environmental health transformation. Yet strong global health governance and rights-based approaches remain key.