Dr. Rina Mayela Ruiz Carbalo ,who has been a doctor since 2001, said, “People don’t need to be convinced. They want to do what keeps them healthy and their children healthy.”  She works at Centro de Salud Grenanda and goes into the community once a week to see patients who cannot come to the clinic. The Partnership for Influenza Vaccine Introduction, a project of The Task Force for Global Health, is working with the Ministry of Health in Nicaragua to provide pregnant women and other high-risk groups with seasonal influenza vaccine.  Thur. March 23, 2017 (Photo by Billy Weeks)

Compassion: An Engine for Primary Health Care

FACE and the WHO have launched a new collaboration on compassion as the engine for primary health care. This builds on three years of collaboration and co-hosting the Global Health Compassion Rounds – exploring the role of compassion in global health.



What is Primary Health Care (PHC)?

Primary health care is a whole-of-society approach that aims to maximize the level and distribution of health and well-being.

The PHC approach is based on three components:

Delivering primary care and public health as the core of integrated health services

Implementing multi-sectoral policy

Empowering people and communities

A focus on equity is central to the PHC approach to drive health systems towards universal health coverage (UHC), the ultimate goal. With foundations in the Declaration of Alma Ata (1978) and, more recently, the Declaration of Astana (2018), the WHO-UNICEF Operational Framework for Primary Health Care provides a compass for countries when designing future health systems, based on the unique context within each country and evolving based on population health needs.


Why is Compassion Important for Primary Health Care?

The principle of compassion is explicitly embedded in the 2018 Declaration of Astana, which envisions:

Primary health care and health services that are high quality, safe, comprehensive, integrated, accessible, available and affordable for everyone and everywhere, provided with compassion, respect and dignity by health professionals who are well-trained, skilled, motivated and committed.

Compassion can be considered an essential bedrock and driver of the PHC approach. Compassion not only motivates the PHC workforce in their day-to-day work of caring within the primary care environment, it also can be the engine propelling future-focused action to reorient health systems toward PHC. The PHC approach places solidarity and social justice at the heart of its ethos and associated practical action.

Compassion can provide the glue that ensures that these values remain at the forefront of considerations at all levels of the health system, from the most local level to the national. Indeed, a compassion-infused PHC approach can promote the flourishing of patients, families, communities, and health systems.


Reports & Recordings


Report: Compassion & PHC

This document highlights the importance of compassion in driving forward with the PHC approach, describes key linkages between compassion and specific components of the PHC approach, and summarizes insights gleaned during a virtual event co-hosted by the WHO Special Programme on Primary Health Care and FACE.

Webinar Recording

During the virtual event, “Compassion: An Engine for Primary Health Care,” Dr. Shams Syed, Head of Policy and Partnerships at WHO’s Special Programme on Primary Health Care, facilitated a discussion with four panelists on compassion’s influence on the motivation for operationalization and reorientation of PHC.



Compassion & PHC in Your Words

We asked our community about their view of compassion in primary health care. Here are a few responses:

How would you describe the relationship between compassion and primary health care?

How might we more intentionally bring compassion to the heart of PHC services, settings, and efforts?


Related Resources


Learning Brief 

From the WHO Health Services Learning Hub: “The role of compassion in maintaining quality essential health services during the COVID-19 pandemic.”


Podcast: Systemic Compassion 

In the second of a two-part episode from Stories of Impact, Dr. David Addiss, Heather Buesseler, Dr. Liz Grant, and Dr. Corinne Reid explore the role of compassion in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.


Global Health Compassion Rounds

Together with colleagues at the Global Learning Laboratory for Quality UHC at WHO, our webinar series gathered a global community to share stories, challenge ideas, and spark thinking on compassion in global health.


Compassion & the SDGs

The Templeton World Charity Foundation, University of Edinburgh Global Health Academy, and FACE make the case for compassion as a guiding principle and a unifying thread to accelerate the achievement of the SDGs.


Symposium on Compassion

Dr. Shams Syed presented on “Compassion: An Engine for Primary Healthcare” in a live webinar as a part of the Third Annual Juliet E. Shield Symposium on Compassion, 2022. 


Operational Framework for PHC

Access the WHO and UNICEF 2020 Operational Framework for Primary Health Care: Transforming vision into action.



Coming Soon


WHO Academy: Leading with Compassion in PHC

In collaboration with WHO, the FACE team is developing a learning module on Leading with Compassion in PHC. The course will soon be available online at the WHO Academy to decision-makers in health systems around the world who are implementing PHC for Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

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