During a normal year I would be traveling to the World Health Assembly this week, but this year I joined state leaders and world-renowned experts virtually from our homes, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, the spirit is evident: global collaboration on the state of our world’s health has never in our lifetime been more necessary.
This is backed by the decades I have worked on maternal, child and family health throughout Nigeria. Primary Health Centres (PHCs) are mostly located within communities, and much of Nigeria and Africa remains rural. With the majority of Nigeria’s population living in these rural communities, and a recognition of the strong indications of community transmission of the virus, PHCs should serve as an important link in the management of the COVID-19. In 2015, I successfully facilitated a maternity referral standard primary health centre at Eruku Cottage Hospital in Kwara State, and saw the benefits of a prompt pathway from diagnostics to treatment and care.
Similarly, from my leadership role chairing Nigeria’s Civil Society Coalition’s Primary Health Care Revitalization Support Group to the 8th National Assembly, which successfully advocated for the Basic Health Care Provision Fund, I know that achieving universal health coverage will not rest upon one single static action, but on the spectrum of interventions and initiatives; from water, sanitation and hygiene standards in healthcare facilities to breastfeeding education and training for healthcare workers.
In a country as large as Nigeria, resilience throughout the whole nation’s system was always going to be necessary if we were going to be able to tackle critical health emergencies in fragile settings, such as in the North East. Today, even the strongest regions are sorely tested, and that is why a strengthened primary health care system is imperative as the foundation to achieve health for all. Support for PHCs should be a focal point for investment, as we coordinate our responses to the pandemic.
It is only by strengthening capacity and concrete frameworks at primary levels of care and education services that we can build the resilience to cope in times of crisis, restore health and prosperity, create healthy futures and improve the wellbeing of citizens in the long-term.
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