Member Spotlight: PATH

January 24, 2022

Rallying behind collective action toward health system strengthening

Cassie Kobrin, Policy Communications Officer, PATH


Catherine Mulenga, the nurse in charge of the children’s ward for malnutrition at Kitwe Central Hospital in Zambia. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

Over the past two years, COVID-19 has forced many health systems around the world to their breaking point. Health system weaknesses have not only disrupted routine health services but also jeopardized the rollout of emergency response efforts including scale-up of COVID-19 testing centers and access to vaccination.

The pandemic has demonstrated what we in global health have known for a long time—that we can no longer approach public health issues through “vertical” programs focusing on siloed health areas such as malaria, polio, HIV/AIDS, or childhood immunization. These disease-specific programs are reaching the limits of their potential, and the pandemic has emphasized the importance of uplifting entire health systems to enable them to respond to more than one health crisis at once

To date, inadequate progress has been made in building and maintaining resilient health systems. As a result of COVID-19’s disruption to essential health services, for the first time in 20 years, key HIV prevention and testing services have declined and the number of people tested and treated for TB dropped by 18% between 2019 and 2020, according to The Global Fund. Health service disruptions have also jeopardized the public health emergency response, including the roll out of COVID-19 testing, treatments, and vaccines—with several countries failing to deliver vaccine doses before expiration. COVID-19 has painfully reminded us, the gains of past decades can be easily disrupted. To promote more resilient and equitable health services, we must rethink how we approach public health.

One way to achieve this is by investing in primary health care and integrating multiple health services within a single access point. For example, in countries like Kenya, PATH is advocating for increased investments in overall primary health care systems, which can cover approximately 80% of the services in a person’s lifetime, rather than just siloed program investments. Regardless of the country or community, the goal is the same: use every opportunity to provide a holistic package of health services to all.

As we look toward the year ahead, we are at a critical moment for collective action toward health system strengthening. 

We need a sustained and effective response to the public health emergency, including ongoing COVID-19 vaccination, which requires adequately supported human resources, as well as effective supply chains, monitoring and evaluation including information systems that are interoperable, and adequate financing.  As we work toward getting out of the acute phase of the current pandemic, we must ensure we are investing in strong, resilient systems and infrastructure to leave the world better prepared for future health crises. 

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PATH is a global team of innovators working to accelerate health equity so all people and communities can thrive. We advise and partner with public institutions, businesses, grassroots groups, and investors to solve the world’s most pressing health challenges.