Azerbaijan strengthens its health workforce to boost primary health care

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The Shamaki district, a mountainous area in the east of Azerbaijan, is home to about 106,000 people, most of whom live in rural settings. Accessing health care is difficult for many, owing to inadequate primary health care facilities. However, things are changing for these communities with the PROACT Care project implemented by WHO through the Universal Health Coverage Partnership (UHC Partnership).

A pilot project in Shamakhi is providing strong evidence that a primary health care approach---which is focused on training health workers and empowering communities to take charge of their health---is an effective way to build a solid foundation for a more responsive and resilient health system throughout the country. In association with the Government, WHO has trained and supported a range of health workers including paediatricians, family doctors and mobile clinic drivers, to provide essential primary health care services to remote populations.

"What can primary health care do for Shamakhi? People will get their health checked, health services will be easily accessible and people will be enlightened about health issues," said Seferov Semed, the local government representative of Goyler, a small town in Shamakhi region, about 100 kilometers west of Baku, the capital. He recently attended a WHO opening ceremony for 3 mobile primary health care clinics, which are vehicles that move from village to village carrying medical equipment, supplies and community health workers. They ensure that health care is brought closer to those who cannot travel to health facilities far away.

Primary health care during COVID-19

Effective primary health care serves as a community's first point of contact to the health system. The approach empowers people to choose healthier lifestyles, prevent diseases and access a range of health services.

Community members and health workers in Shamakhi have seen progress in access to primary health care, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic and the roll out of vaccines.

Azerbaijan had its first case of COVID-19 in February 2020. It received its first delivery of vaccines in April 2021, as part of COVAX, a global collaboration to accelerate the development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, and continues to vaccinate its population.

"Primary health care workers play a significant role in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. It will be expedient to apply the primary health care model developed in Shamakhi throughout the country," said Anar Israfilov, Head of Healthcare Organization Department, Ministry of Health.

Scaling up nationwide

The project in Shamakhi has improved the capacity of 60 primary health care workers, serving rural communities with a population of 106,000 people. The results and lessons learned will serve as a basis for the nationwide rollout of the approach and will have a strong impact on building the primary health care foundation of the country. For Azerbaijan, this is a solid strategy to achieve UHC and boost health security, to ensure that the country will be better prepared to protect its population from future health emergencies while enabling everyone to attain good health and well-being.

Azerbaijan is among the 115 countries and areas to which the UHC Partnership helps deliver WHO support and technical expertise in advancing universal health coverage (UHC) with a primary health care (PHC) approach. The Partnership is one of WHO's largest initiatives on international cooperation for UHC and PHC. It is funded by the European Union, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, Irish Aid, the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, the Government of Japan - Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, the United Kingdom - Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, Belgium, Canada and Germany.