Primary Health Care Systems Serve As Front Lines In Disease Outbreaks, Must Be Strengthened

The Conversation: How best to prepare for epidemics? Strengthen primary care
Ashwin Vasan, assistant professor of Clinical Population Health & Medicine at Columbia University

“…Why is primary care important in epidemics like Ebola or Zika? First, we know that primary care providers play an important role in initial outbreak response and surveillance. … Community health workers, for example, are a major pillar of the primary care system in many rural areas and in developing countries. … Primary care systems also help prevent and treat chronic illness and diagnose common diseases sooner. This is largely because primary care providers develop long-term relationships with their patients, which in turn increases willingness of patients to seek care, and to seek it earlier. … There are some early signs that primary health care is becoming a priority on the global development agenda. … [S]upport for front-line health care is the first step in establishing a foundation of health services that is resilient to unexpected shocks like Ebola and Zika, and provides consistent, high-quality primary care to all. The epidemic emergencies that ended in 2016 have awakened us to the threat[s] that weak health systems and poor primary health care pose. We must repair these systems and improve primary care now, or risk being similarly unprepared for the next wave” (2/14).