Improving the role of primary health care in early detection and management of noncommunicable diseases in Albania

In 2015, aiming to improve the population’s access to preventive services offered by primary health care (PHC), the government of Albania launched a preventive check-up programme. As a result of this programme, all individuals aged 35–70 years can now get free annual check-ups. To facilitate this, the government has provided special training to nurses to provide these check-ups, which include routine bloodwork and patient interviews to screen for depression and noncommunicable disease (NCD) risk factors.

Two years after this intervention, visits to PHC centres have increased and providers reported that people’s attitudes are changing, accepting that both PHC doctors and nurses can provide valuable information and help in preventing NCDs. Through improvements in PHC staff capacity, better access to laboratory facilities countrywide and targeting vulnerable and at-risk populations, PHC centres in Albania are becoming more proactive in disease prevention.

A WHO mission was conducted on 13–20 April 2017 to discuss these developments. Experts are now working to improve the competencies of PHC providers to manage NCDs and modify NCD risk factors after detection. This will require reviewing the range of examinations provided during check-ups, but also increasing access to follow-up tests, designing new clinical pathways for the most common NCDs and continuously improving the performance of health providers. Albania has also been urged to work towards increasing the autonomy of nurses in providing education and counselling to patients with NCDs, improving population health monitoring, and integrating individual-based interventions with public health interventions to address priority health problems.