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Primary Health Care for Resilient Health Systems in Latin America

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Latin American countries were hard hit by COVID-19 with rates of excess mortality above the OECD average. The pandemic brought additional stress to health systems already overstretched by a growing burden of chronic diseases, unequal access to health care services, overall under-investment in health and strong budgetary restrictions, and systemic inefficiencies. Doubling down on primary health care will be a cost-effective strategy to increase preparedness for future pandemics and address the structural challenges in the region. The report examines the experience of seven countries in Latin America – Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Peru – considering primary health care policies and actions taken to absorb the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and recover from it. The findings and recommendations of this report provide guidance to public authorities in the region in their efforts to better prepare and increase the resilience of health systems through stronger primary health care.

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Routine care for underlying health conditions

Ensuring appropriate care provision for mild COVID‑19 cases and maintaining care continuity for all other patients are key elements of resilient health systems. During a pandemic, strong primary health care system is well placed both to manage acute care needs in co‑operation with hospitals and keep people in better health condition through continuous care. While the response from LAC‑7 countries has been very hospital-centric during the early phase of the pandemic, countries with stronger primary health care have put a greater emphasis on the role of primary health care and community services. Such initiatives have helped to reduce pressure on health systems and minimise complications and direct death from COVID‑19. Evidence also demonstrates that maintaining care continuity for all has been one key challenge in LAC‑7 countries, with high levels of care disruption and changes to treatment plans for chronic diseases such as cancer, hypertension or diabetes.

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