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Geneva, 21 May 2018 (PAHO/WHO) - The importance of using community health workers and strengthening primary care to achieve universal health coverage were the topics addressed at this side event co-organized by Ecuador and other delegations in connection with the 71st World Health Assembly.

According to Tedros Adhamon Ghebreyesu, Director-General of the World Health Organization, "Primary health care is the fundamental basis of universal health coverage and can help us mobilize the resources to achieve it. Health workers represent the backbone of universal health coverage."

Next, the Ecuadorian Minister Health, Verónica Espinosa, highlighted what her country has achieved by betting on community health workers, in terms of both their training and work model. She said that people have access to free, quality health services because primary health care was strengthened by using community health workers.

"We can't have primary health care or universal health care if we don't design models that include health workers and have a community focus"

Ecuadorian Minister Health, Verónica Espinosa

"A change in the model put the emphasis on these workers," she explained. "We can't have primary health care or universal health care if we don't design models that include health workers and have a community focus," Espinosa said. The minister noted that the role of health workers also generates social participation and can empower communities.

Garça Machel, human rights activist and widow of South African leader Nelson Mandela, emphasized that it is important to invest in primary care for universal health coverage. "Health is the mother of every one of the Sustainable Development Goals. They start with a person who is alive and healthy," she said. Machel noted that we can't continue to make commitments without taking concrete action, which requires changing the way things are done to achieve universal health coverage. 

The president of UNAIDS Michel Sidibé said that the perspective needs to change and there must be well-trained community health workers that can provide initial care. He said universal health must be thought of as the intersection between health providers and communities if we want to achieve an attractive universal coverage model.