Social justice: The road to health equity

In order to eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities, we must look beyond the clinic exam room. We need to see each patient as a connected person, who is embedded in myriad social networks: her family, her community, her work place.

A person’s living conditions affects his health. I think we all would agree to that statement. Unequal living conditions — in which some people live in poor housing, have limited options for food, have poor sanitation, lack employment, and face a host of other challenges to maintaining a healthy life – such unequal living conditions lead to inequities in health. Racial health inequities are a reflection of social inequities. Reducing or eliminating racial health disparities requires reducing or eliminating social inequities.

Equal health status requires social justice. I’m not arguing against the importance of a sound health care sector, which is a key social determinant of health, but rather for the huge importance of non-medical determinants of health.

Last fall, the World Health Organization’s Commission on the Social Determinants of Health released its report. The WHO Commission, headed by Sir Michael Marmot, made three broad recommendations to address the health inequities stemming from social injustice:

1) Improve daily living conditions
2) Tackle the inequitable distribution of power, money, and resources
3) Measure and understand the problem and assess the impact of action

The WHO recently set up an online tutorial on the social determinant of health. The four-module course helps learners understand the connections between health, equity, human rights, and social justice. Take the course. Read the CSDOH report. Organize to take action.

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009 at 21:39