The time is ripe for a revitalization of the primary health care (PHC) movement. “Health for All through Primary Health Care” (HFA) was first envisioned at the 1978 International Conference on Primary Health Care (World Health Organization and UNICEF), and was enshrined in the Declaration of Alma-Ata. The HFA goal of bringing essential, affordable, scientifically sound, socially acceptable health care provided by health workers who are trained to work as a health team and who are responsive to the health needs of the community, guided by strong community engagement by the year 2000 but has not been fully met. Fortunately the vision of Alma-Ata has taken root, sprouted and flourished in a number of locations.
Thanks to the vision and intellectual and political leadership of Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the then Minister of Health of Ethiopia and recently elected Director General of the World Health Organization, Ethiopia is an outstanding example of the Alma-Ata legacy. Access to PHC services was greatly expanded through the training of 40,000 Health Extension Workers (women from the local area with one year of training, each of whom serve 2,500 people and receive a government salary), recruitment of 3 million community female health volunteers (called the Health Development Army), and engagement with communities to enable them to take responsibility for improving their health.
This expansion of PHC enabled Ethiopia to achieve its health-related MDGs. Child mortality (those younger than 5 years of age) declined from 166 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 67 in 2016 (MDG 4). Significant progress was achieved in reducing levels of childhood malnutrition (MDG 1). MDG 5 was almost reached, with a decline in maternal morality of 72%, versus the goal of 75%, and the percentage of mothers obtaining a delivery by a skilled provider increased 6-fold between 1995 and 2016. The prevalence rate of modern contraceptive use increased from 6% in 2000 to 35% in 2016. MDG 6 (for HIV, malaria and tuberculosis) was also reached. The number of new HIV infections declined by 90%, and the number of AIDS-related deaths by 53%. Between 1990 and 2015, the tuberculosis incidence and mortality rate declined by 48% and 72%, respectively. The malaria incidence rate declined by 50% and malaria mortality by 60%. Ethiopia’s PHC system is acknowledged as the major factor leading to these impressive health gains.
Representatives from more than half of sub-Saharan Africa countries have come to Ethiopia to see its PHC system in action. Because of this interest, in 2016 the Federal Ministry of Health of Ethiopia established the International Institute for Primary Health Care – Ethiopia, with seed funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and technical support from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Our goal is for the Institute to become a global center of excellence for training, knowledge dissemination and research in primary health care, supported by multiple donors.
The Institute has begun to provide formalized short-term training to high-level policy makers and officials, program planners and managers, as well as to those engaged in service delivery, to see first-hand how an effective national PHC system functions. Trainees come from within Ethiopia and around the world. Trainees also visit communities, meet their leaders, and observe primary health care providers at work. Trainees will return to their home country with renewed energy and new vision and skills to revitalize their own primary health care system.
The Institute will also conduct and support research that yields evidence to guide ongoing strengthening of the Health Extension Program, and will rapidly disseminate open access information about recent advances in PHC. The Institute marks a significant step forward on the road to achieving the Alma-Ata vision of Health for All.
A website for IIfPHC-E is being built to provide further information about these programs and will be available at: www.iifphc.org.
This posting was prepared by: Kesetebirhan Admasu1, Michael J. Klag2, Yifru Berhan Mitke3, Amir Aman4, Mengesha Admassu5, Solomon Zewdu6, Jose Rimon7, Henry B. Perry8
1Chief Executive Officer, Rollback Malaria Partnership, Geneva, Switzerland and Chair, Advisory Board, International Institute for Primary Health Care — Ethiopia
2Dean, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD, USA
3Minister, Federal Ministry of Health, Government of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
4State Minister, Federal Ministry of Health, Government of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Co-Chair, Advisory Board, International Institute for Primary Health Care – Ethiopia
5Executive Director, International Institute for Primary Health Care – Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
6Health and Nutrition Development Lead – Ethiopia, Integrated Programs, Global Policy & Advocacy – Global Development, Bill& Melinda Gates Foundation, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
7Director, Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD, USA
8Coordinator for Johns Hopkins University Support of the International Institute for Primary Health Care – Ethiopia, Department of International Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD, USA