Strengthening the primary health care response to COVID-19: an operational tool for policymakers
Johansen, Anne S.
Cambridge University Press
Scholarly/refereed, publisher version
© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press. This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Aims: The aim of this paper is to introduce an operational checklist to serve as a tool for policymakers in the WHO European Region to strengthen primary health care (PHC) services and address the COVID-19 pandemic more effectively and to present the results from piloting the tool in Armenia.Backgrounds: PHC has the potential to play a fundamental role in countries’ responses to COVID-19. However, this potential remains unrealized in many countries. To assist countries, the WHO Regional Office for Europe developed a guidance document – Strengthening the Health Systems Response to COVID-19: Adapting Primary Health Care Services to more Effectively Address COVID-19 – that identifies strategic actions countries can take to strengthen their PHC response to the pandemic. Based on this guidance document, an operational checklist was developed to serve as a tool for policymakers to operationalize the recommended actions.Methods: The operational checklist was developed by transforming key points in the guidance document into questions in order to identify potentially modifiable factors to strengthen PHC in response to COVID-19. The operational checklist was then piloted in Armenia in June 2020 as part of a WHO mission to provide technical advice on strengthening Armenia’s PHC response to COVID-19. Two WHO experts performed semi-structured, face-to-face interviews with nine key informants (both facility managers and clinical staff) in three PHC facilities (two in a rural and one in an urban area). The data collected were analyzed to identify underlying challenges limiting PHC providers’ ability to effectively and efficiently respond to COVID-19 and maintain essential health services.Findings: The paper finds that making adjustments only to health services delivery will be insufficient to address most of the challenges identified by PHC providers in the context of COVID-19 in Armenia. In particular, strategic responses to the pandemic were missed, due, in part, to the absence of COVID-19 management teams at the facility level. Furthermore, the absence of PHC experts in Armenia’s national pandemic response team meant that health system issues identified at the facility level could not easily be communicated to or addressed by policymakers. The checklist therefore helps policymakers identify critical challenges – at both the facility and health system level – that need to be addressed to strengthen the PHC response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Johansen, A., Shriwise, A., Lopez-Acuna, D., & Vracko, P. (2021). Strengthening the primary health care response to COVID-19: An operational tool for policymakers. Primary Health Care Research & Development, 22, E81. doi:10.1017/S1463423621000360.
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