South Africa Holds its Inaugural Conference on Primary Health Care


The inaugural South African Primary Health Care (SAPHC) Conference took place in East London, from November 14 to 17, 2023, hosted by the National Department of Health (NDOH), the National Department of Planning Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME), Health Systems Trust, and the World Health Organization (WHO). 

The conference included informative and interactive plenary and breakaway sessions, where international speakers shared their successful experiences in implementing Primary Health Care.

Themed “Towards Universal Health Coverage, Strengthening Primary Health Care: A Whole of Government, whole of Society Approach,” the event aimed to renew the nation’s commitment to the Primary Health Care (PHC) approach, highlighting its importance in achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC) within the National Health Insurance (NHI) framework.

The origins of this conference can be linked to the World Health Organization’s 2008 World Health Report, which reasserted the vision of Primary Health Care (PHC) as a set of guiding values and principles for health system development. South Africa’s progression towards PHC principles has unfolded over the last 30 years, transitioning the health system from fragmentation to integration. Notable accomplishments, including enhanced access to PHC services and the endorsement of the NHI Policy in 2017 underscore this transformation.

In her remarks, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the Regional Director for WHO Africa, underscored the conference’s importance: “Universal Health Coverage is central to achieving Health for All, and Primary Health Care serves as the essential means to expedite progress and success. The Primary Health Care approach empowers us to holistically address the health needs of the population, encompassing health promotion, disease prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, and, when necessary, palliative care.”

At the core of advancing healthcare services and outcomes, Primary Health Care serves as the cornerstone for both Universal Health Coverage and a robust health system.

Dr. Owen Kaluwa, WHO South Africa’s Country Representative, emphasized that Primary Health Care is a holistic approach offering accessible, affordable, and equitable healthcare services. It centers on community-based health services, prevention, health promotion, and addressing social determinants of health. Serving as the bedrock for Universal Health Coverage and a resilient health system, Primary Health Care is vital for enhancing healthcare services and outcomes.

The conference saw a gathering of more than 450 participants, including representatives from government, non-governmental and community-based organizations, civil society, academia, research institutions, the private sector, organized labor, and the complementary/alternative healing sector.

The conference included informative and interactive plenary and breakaway sessions where international speakers shared successful experiences in implementing Primary Health Care. It served as a platform to highlight successes at the provincial, district, and sub-district levels, fostering input from various sectors for collaborative approaches.

The conference incorporated sessions covering diverse topics, including UHC and NHI, the integration of priority programs into Primary Health Care, human resources for health, technology, and innovation, and the addressing of social determinants of health.

Hosting this historic conference in South Africa represents a noteworthy stride toward constructing a brighter future for all citizens by promoting and enhancing Primary Health Care.


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