Promotion of health on a sustainable basis

Achieving the best possible state of health is a human right. Health is both a prerequisite and the result of social and economic development. In order to sustainably promote health, prevent diseases and adequately treat patients, functioning health care systems are necessary. Improving health care systems and strengthening our partners’ health services is therefore a focus of our work.

Ensuring primary health care

Promoting health - strengthening health systems

Many people still do not have access to, or cannot afford, high-quality health care because many countries' health systems are too weak. Every year around 100 million people worldwide are reduced to poverty because they fall sick and have to pay for their own health care.

By strengthening health systems, we can actively contribute to a sustainable reduction of poverty and the improvement of the health situation.

Health systems in detail
According to the definition of WHO, the health system of...

Many people still do not have access to, or cannot afford, high-quality health care because many countries' health systems are too weak. Every year around 100 million people worldwide are reduced to poverty because they fall sick and have to pay for their own health care.

By strengthening health systems, we can actively contribute to a sustainable reduction of poverty and the improvement of the health situation.

Health systems in detail
According to the definition of WHO, the health system of a country includes all organizations, institutions and persons who contribute to the promotion, maintenance and restoration of health. This includes measures that affect those factors that determine health, such as poverty, sanitation, access to water and education, and measures that directly improve health.

The most important elements of a health system are:

  • a health financing system
  • well trained health workers
  • a reliable supply of medicines
  • a health information system for health professionals and politicians
  • a good infrastructure of health care facilities
  • a good road network (this can be life-saving if it allows a pregnant mother to reach a clinic in time for delivery).

Only if all these elements are well developed, patients can be properly cared for. And only then people can promote health and help to prevent and treat disease at a local level.

Approaches to strengthen health systems
In recent decades, there have been repeated efforts to strengthen health care through new approaches. The most important of these are the development of the concept of Primary Health Care as a comprehensive approach to strengthening health systems from the grass root level, as well as the UN Millennium Development Goals. Since 2001, the partial achievement of development goals has seen significant progress in maternal and child health, as well as in the control of infectious diseases, in particular AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. However, both approaches were mainly used selectively, so that a sustainable strengthening of local health systems could not be achieved.

In order to sustain the achievements of recent decades and improve health in other areas, it will be important to develop strong and sustainable health systems also in the future.

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Strengthening of health systems

To achieve this objective, the following issues are essential:  

  • Those responsible in health policy and in non-governmental organisations are challenged to develop concepts for improving the health of all citizens in a country and to actively promote the implementation of these concepts.
  • It is important that health professionals are well trained and willing to work also in regions that are difficult to reach and to adapt their initiatives to local conditions through innovative approaches. 
  • The communities at grassroots level must be involved and use their skills and opportunities to promote health and to prevent, diagnose and treat diseases. Many causes of diseases, such as poor hygiene or poor nutrition, can be tackled locally. In addition, some of the most common illnesses can be treated on site. As a result, referral to the health centre or hospital is limited to more serious cases.
  • We need good systems of health care financing. The financial resources available at regional and national levels, as well as international funds, must be used effectively to improve health care also for neglected populations and people in rural areas.
  • A good supply of medicines must guarantee the availability of essential drugs and diagnostic tools. As far as possible, medicines (generic drugs) should be produced locally or imported from other southern – instead of northern - countries.
  • Only a good health information system can ensure that data at all levels of the health system are properly collected, entered and forwarded to districts and at national levels, so that they can be taken into account in the planning of new initiatives and action.
  • Governments, non-governmental organisations and the private sector need to network, exchange information and cooperate rather than act independently of each other. Due to that, existing resources can be used more effectively. 
  • At all levels, the infrastructure of health care facilities must be improved to meet growing needs. As well, the accessibility of facilities for people in remote regions urgently needs to be improved.

Contact

Ute Papkalla
Ute Papkalla Consultant pour le renforcement du système de santé Mohlstaße 8 D-72074 Tübingen Tel. +49 7071 7049031 Fax: +49 7071 7049039 Papkalla@difaem.de