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The contribution of primary care to health and health systems in low- and middle-income countries: A critical review of major primary care initiatives


  • Kruk, Margaret Elizabeth
  • Porignon, Denis
  • Rockers, Peter C.
  • Van Lerberghe, Wim


It has been 30 years since the Declaration of Alma Ata. During that time, primary care has been the central strategy for expanding health services in many low- and middle-income countries. The recent global calls to redouble support for primary care highlighted it as a pathway to reaching the health Millennium Development Goals. In this systematic review we described and assessed the contributions of major primary care initiatives implemented in low- and middle-income countries in the past 30 years to a broad range of health system goals. The scope of the programs reviewed was substantial, with several interventions implemented on a national scale. We found that the majority of primary care programs had multiple components from health service delivery to financing reform to building community demand for health care. Although given this integration and the variable quality of the available research it was difficult to attribute effects to the primary care component alone, we found that primary care-focused health initiatives in low- and middle-income countries have improved access to health care, including among the poor, at reasonably low cost. There is also evidence that primary care programs have reduced child mortality and, in some cases, wealth-based disparities in mortality. Lastly, primary care has proven to be an effective platform for health system strengthening in several countries. Future research should focus on understanding how to optimize the delivery of primary care to improve health and achieve other health system objectives (e.g., responsiveness, efficiency) and to what extent models of care can be exported to different settings.

Suggested Citation

  • Kruk, Margaret Elizabeth & Porignon, Denis & Rockers, Peter C. & Van Lerberghe, Wim, 2010. "The contribution of primary care to health and health systems in low- and middle-income countries: A critical review of major primary care initiatives," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 70(6), pages 904-911, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:70:y:2010:i:6:p:904-911

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    Cited by:

    1. repec:eee:pubeco:v:150:y:2017:i:c:p:75-93 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Luck, J. & Peabody, J.W. & DeMaria, L.M. & Alvarado, C.S. & Menon, R., 2014. "Patient and provider perspectives on quality and health system effectiveness in a transition economy: Evidence from Ukraine," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 114(C), pages 57-65.
    3. Solveig Danielsen & Frank B. Matsiko, 2016. "Using a plant health system framework to assess plant clinic performance in Uganda," Food Security: The Science, Sociology and Economics of Food Production and Access to Food, Springer;The International Society for Plant Pathology, vol. 8(2), pages 345-359, April.
    4. Cesur, Resul & Güneş, Pınar Mine & Tekin, Erdal & Ulker, Aydogan, 2017. "The value of socialized medicine: The impact of universal primary healthcare provision on mortality rates in Turkey," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 150(C), pages 75-93.
    5. Lê, Gillian & Morgan, Rosemary & Bestall, Janine & Featherstone, Imogen & Veale, Thomas & Ensor, Tim, 2016. "Can service integration work for universal health coverage? Evidence from around the globe," Health Policy, Elsevier, vol. 120(4), pages 406-419.
    6. Thoresen, Stian H. & Fielding, Angela, 2011. "Universal health care in Thailand: Concerns among the health care workforce," Health Policy, Elsevier, vol. 99(1), pages 17-22, January.
    7. Kringos, Dionne S. & Boerma, Wienke G.W. & van der Zee, Jouke & Groenewegen, Peter P., 2013. "Political, cultural and economic foundations of primary care in Europe," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 99(C), pages 9-17.
    8. repec:eee:socmed:v:201:y:2018:i:c:p:27-34 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Groenewegen, Peter P. & Dourgnon, Paul & Greß, Stefan & Jurgutis, Arnoldas & Willems, Sara, 2013. "Strengthening weak primary care systems: Steps towards stronger primary care in selected Western and Eastern European countries," Health Policy, Elsevier, vol. 113(1), pages 170-179.
    10. Geissler, Kimberley H. & Leatherman, Sheila, 2015. "Providing primary health care through integrated microfinance and health services in Latin America," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 132(C), pages 30-37.
    11. Cesur, Resul & Güne?, P?nar Mine & Tekin, Erdal & Ulker, Aydogan, 2015. "The Value of Socialized Medicine: The Impact of Universal Primary Healthcare Provision on Birth and Mortality Rates in Turkey," IZA Discussion Papers 9329, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).


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