Opportune time to focus on health

Governments’ policy overhaul stirred by the economic crisis could bring a chance to put health equity at the centre of policy development, according to a researcher from the Australian National University (ANU).

Research fellow at the ANU National Centre for Epidemiology, Sharon Friel argued that Australian Government’s intervention in the financial crisis has created policy space for health, equity and sustainability.

Dr Friel, also principal research fellow on the World Health Organisation’s Global Commission on Social Determinants on Health, argued governments worldwide should strive to narrow the health gap within a generation.

“The toxic combination of poor social policies, unfair economic arrangement and bad politics is, in large measure, responsible for the fact that a majority of people in the world do not enjoy the good health that is biologically possible – social injustice is killing people on a grand scale,” she said.

She said the biased distribution of power and wealth continued to engender marked health inequities between and within countries, leading to unfairness in the circumstances of peoples’ lives.

“Their access to health care, schools and education, their conditions of work and leisure, their homes, communities, towns or cities, and their chances of leading a flourishing life. Together these constitute the social determinants of health.

“Departments of health at federal and state level and international health organisations have a moral responsibility to champion a social determinants of health approach,” she said.

She said while closing the health gap may not be the aim of all social policies, it would be a natural upshot.

She added that the underlying determinants of health inequity and of environmental change overlap substantially.

“They reflect, in particular, an economic system predicated on growth and competition, shaped by market forces that mostly disregard health and environmental consequences and limits rather than by values of fairness and support,” Dr Friel said.

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