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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UCLA: Latin American, Caribbean Health Systems Need More Investment as Populations Age

Study involving UCLA researchers finds progress toward universal health coverage, but gaps in how citizens assess primary care

The health systems of six Latin American and Caribbean countries have made substantial progress toward universal coverage — providing free or subsidized healthcare to the majority of their populations — but continue to face challenges managing more complex health needs such as those related to cardiovascular disease, cancer, stroke and depression, a new study from the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and the Inter-American Development Bank finds.

Though the health systems in Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Jamaica, Mexico and Panama have considerable strengths, citizens still reported gaps in the way primary care is organized, financed and delivered in those countries. People reporting greater problems accessing primary care also reported receiving effective and timely healthcare or basic preventive measures such as blood pressure and cholesterol checks less often. People’s experience of primary care also translated to their assessment of the entire health system; those who had better experiences at the primary care level were less likely to say that their health system needed major reforms.

“The fact that these countries are facing an increased burden of chronic conditions will ultimately affect their economies without continued social investments and that can be a challenge during the current economic slowdown,” said Dr. James Macinko, professor in the departments of health policy and management and of community health sciences at the Fielding School and the study’s lead investigator.

The study appears in the August issue of the peer-reviewed journal Health Affairs.

Dr. Frederico Guanais, lead health specialist at the Inter-American Development Bank and the study’s co-principal investigator noted that while there is “no one right way” to organize a health system, investments in universal health systems with a strong emphasis on primary care have been shown to result in better health and more equitable outcomes across population groups. He added, however, there is still little research into the effectiveness of different health systems’ approaches toward managing chronic conditions.

“These countries represent very diverse approaches to health systems, from national health services in Brazil and Jamaica to social security and public insurance schemes in Mexico and Colombia,” Dr. Macinko said. “There are certainly lessons to be learned that each of these countries may be able to adapt from each other. It’s also likely some of these experiences could be adapted to improve care in the United States and elsewhere.”

Adapting a version of the 2013 Commonwealth Fund International Health Policy Survey, 9,000 participants from both rural and urban areas in the six countries were asked about primary care accessibility, continuity, patient-centeredness, problem resolution, and coordination of care. Overall response rates ranged from 29 percent in Colombia to 44 percent in El Salvador.


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