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General country health policies

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Public policies in the health sector, together with those in other sectors, have a huge potential to secure the health of communities.[1] They represent an important complement to universal coverage and service delivery reforms. Unfortunately, in most societies, this potential is largely untapped and failure to effectively engage other sectors is widespread. Looking ahead at the diverse range of challenges associated with the growing importance of ageing, urbanization and the social determinants of health, there is, without question, a need for a greater capacity to seize this potential. That is why a drive for better public policies forms a third pillar supporting the move towards primary health care, along with universal coverage and primary care (see figure).

Primary health care reforms necessary to refocus health systems towards health for all

The following policies must be in place:

  • Systems policies – the arrangements that are needed across health systems’ building blocks to support universal coverage and effective service delivery. These are the health systems policies (related to essential drugs, technology, quality control, human resources, accreditation, etc.) on which primary care and universal coverage reforms depend.
  • Public health policies – the specific actions needed to address priority health problems through cross-cutting prevention and health promotion. Without effective public health policies that address priority health problems, primary care and universal coverage reforms would be hindered. These encompass the technical policies and programmes that provide guidance to primary care teams on how to deal with priority health problems. They also encompass the classical public health interventions from public hygiene and disease prevention to health promotion.
  • Policies in other sectors – contributions to health that can be made through intersectoral collaboration. These policies, which are of critical concern, are known as “health in all policies”, based on the recognition that a population's health can be improved through policies that are mainly controlled by sectors other than health. The health content of school curricula, industry’s policy towards gender equality, or the safety of food and consumer goods are all issues that can profoundly influence or even determine the health of entire communities and that can cut across national boundaries. It is not possible to address such issues without intensive intersectoral collaboration that gives due weight to health in all policies.

This section of the health system profile is structured as follows:


Analytical summary

Overview of major policy reforms

Public health policies

Health system policies

Policies in other sectors and intersectoral policies

Priorities and ways forward


Endnotes: sources, methods, abbreviations, etc.

Click here to access the statistical fact sheets on health systems.


  1. Systems thinking for health systems strengthening (pdf 1.54Mb). Geneva, World Health Organization, 2009