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Global Health Thought Leadership

Primary Health Care Essential to Improving Global Health Outcomes

By Charles Redding, MedShare CEO & President

I cannot recall a time when so much focus has been placed on primary health care, or the lack thereof, as it is now.  The global Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the ongoing struggle in many communities to address underlying health conditions before they lead to catastrophic outcomes.  This is especially true in low-income and marginalized communities.

The concept of primary health care has been repeatedly reinterpreted and redefined.  In some contexts, it is referred to as the provision of ambulatory or first-level personal health care services. In other contexts, primary health care is understood as a set of priority health interventions for low-income populations. Others consider primary health care to be an essential component of human development, focusing on the economic, social and political aspects. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has developed a cohesive definition based on three components:

  • Meeting people’s health needs through comprehensive promotive, protective, preventive, curative, rehabilitative, and palliative care throughout the life course, strategically prioritizing key health care services aimed at individuals and families through primary care and the population through public health functions as the central elements of integrated health services;
  • Systematically addressing the broader determinants of health (including social, economic, environmental, as well as people’s characteristics and behaviors) through evidence-informed public policies and actions across all sectors; and
  • Empowering individuals, families, and communities to optimize their health, as advocates for policies that promote and protect health and well-being, as co-developers of health and social services, and as self-carers and care-givers to others.

All too often, primary health care is a weak link in health systems. Over 400 million people worldwide lack access to essential health services typically delivered through primary health care. According to WHO, over 10 million children under the age of five who live in developing nations die annually due to inadequate medical care. In some instances, potentially life-saving surgeries have to be cancelled due to the lack of basic supplies like sutures, clean needles, gauze and alcohol wipes. 

Often, people living in medically underserved communities are sicker and live shorter lives due to lack of access to basic services, including health care. Closing the gap in quality primary health care is essential to improving global health outcomes. Active primary care health systems are where people go in their communities to stay healthy and to receive care when they become ill. When quality primary care is available, it fosters healthier communities.

For these reasons and more, MedShare’s Primary Care Program focuses on:

  • Decreasing global health disparities by improving access to quality medical supplies and equipment
  • Increasing the capacity to effectively treat and care for patients in local health care systems 
  • Strengthening global health systems so they are prepared to treat patients during future health crises
  • Improving health outcomes for patients by improving the standard of care

MedShare partners with hospitals, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and in-country health ministers to fulfill our mission. By working with these health partners, we help them reach more patients and perform more routine and life-saving medical procedures.

Since 1998, through our Primary Care Program, we have been able to help strengthen health systems and improve the standard of care in 117 countries and territories by:

  1. Delivering nearly 1,900 shipments of quality medical supplies & equipment valued at $238 million.
  2. Provisioning almost 4,000 medical mission teams to provide care in resource-challenged communities
  3. Providing over $3.2 million of medical supplies to local safety-net clinics via our on-site Primary Care Supply Centers

Quality health care should not be a choice.  Rather, it should be provided as economically as possible to all those in need.  Without it, the rate of disease and chronic illness affecting people around the world will continue to increase, and pandemics and other health crises will continue to disproportionally impact those living in underserved communities. 


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