The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) held a major regional conference and celebration in Astana, Kazakhstan October 23-26 on the subject of Primary Health Care (PHC). A large-scale celebration of Kazakhstan’s pioneering role in establishing the European and global framework for primary health care marked Day One of the Astana meetings, with WHO and senior regional government speakers commemorating the 45th anniversary of the Alma-Ata and the 5th anniversary of the Astana declarations on primary health care.
According to the WHO, Kazakhstan has emerged as a frontrunner and a key catalyst in the global development of PHC, as evidenced by the Declaration of Alma-Ata and the Declaration of Astana.
High Level Celebration on Day One
Over 80 delegations from WHO member states took part in the celebration on October 23, including ministers of health, scientists, academic and technical experts from international and nongovernmental organizations involved in shaping primary health care services.
The Astana conference was jointly sponsored by the WHO, UNICEF and the Kazakhstan Ministry of Health, with a focus on keeping primary health care (PHC) high on the agenda of European countries.
Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and WHO Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge delivered remarks on October 23.
In his opening remarks, Tokayev said that the historical Alma-Ata Declaration provided the foundation for a “socially just primary health model and has inspired many countries to improve people’s health by recognizing it as a fundamental human right.”
Tokayev stressed the role of the primary health care system in preventing and identifying the spread of infectious diseases worldwide. He said “As the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us, primary health care also plays a critical role in the early identification of pandemics and in responding to unforeseen challenges. Primary healthcare organizations have shown resilience and an ability to adapt quickly. Our health care systems must remain alert. I take this opportunity to thank all medical workers and appreciate the contribution to humanity’s fight against COVID-19.”
Tokayev is no stranger to UN issues, having served in the UN system as Deputy Secretary General starting in 2011, where he managed the UN’s extensive Geneva operations skillfully. Accordingly, all matters involving international collaboration through the UN system receive the highest level of consideration and support in Astana.
In his speech Tokayev proposed a coalition of countries on primary health care with the main task “to promote the principles of integration and healthcare, as well as to elaborate recommendations for the development of primary health care.” He noted that the WHO leadership has accepted his proposal.
WHO Director General Ghebreyesus underlined that Kazakhstan is the “birthplace of primary health care with a special significance at a professional level.” Last September, the United Nations General Assembly approved the Political Declaration on Universal Health Coverage. The declaration, as described by Ghebreyesus, “affirms that primary health care is the cornerstone of universal health coverage and the most inclusive, effective, and efficient path to it.”
Congratulating Kazakhstan for hosting the current meeting, Ghebreyesus added “since its independence, Kazakhstan has made significant progress in improving the health and well-being of its population. This includes expanding access to medicine, developing health and care workforce, addressing critical infrastructure and socio-economic determinants of health.”
WHO Europe Director Kluge commended Kazakhstan’s substantial efforts in “the leadership to champion health and well-being at the center of the social agenda both domestically, regionally in Central Asia, and globally.” Kluge added that “this is the first time when the heads of Central Asian states paved the roadmap of health.”
WHO Regional Committee for Europe gets to work
Following the first day commemorations, the 73rd session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe (for agenda click here) took center stage for three days with a work program entitled “United Action for Better Health in Europe.” The task at hand was essentially to review the WHO’s European Program of Work for 2020-2025 near the mid-point of the program and to plan for the next steps.
With apologies for the turgid UN lingo used at the operational level in UN system documents, a summary of the main outcome has been assembled from various documents from the WHO Regional Office for Europe.
–The WHO/Europe members unanimously adopted a resolution in support of a “Framework for action on the health and care workforce in the WHO European Region,” covering the years 2023 to 2030. The WHO believes the new framework comes at a critical time when all countries in the European Region are struggling to retain and recruit sufficient numbers of health and care workers with the right mix of skills to meet the growing and changing needs of patients.
–The newly adopted resolution acts as a foundation to help fix this health workforce crisis and will see WHO/Europe supporting governments in the Region as they implement it over the coming years.
–The adoption of this resolution is the culmination of a series of measures spearheaded by WHO/Europe to address the current health workforce crisis.
–During the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, WHO/Europe urged countries to do more to protect health and care workers on the frontlines, who often faced unprecedented levels of stress and burnout, as well as higher death rates due to COVID-19 infection. Then, in September 2022, WHO/Europe launched a landmark report warning of a “ticking timebomb” threatening health systems, unless governments did more to invest in and protect their health and care workers, while learning lessons from the pandemic.
–The new Framework sets out 5 key actions that countries can take to protect and support their health and care workers:
(1) Retain and recruit; (2) Build supply; (3) Optimize performance; (4) Plan; (5) Invest.