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Global focus on health inequalities

Thursday October 20th, 2011

Improving the health of the most disadvantaged need not be at the expense of overall improvements, a major European study has concluded.

The findings from the World Health Organisation's European region, were being unveiled at a major conference in Brazil.

WHO has called the conference in Rio de Janeiro to discuss the social determinants of health.

The European work has been led by Professor Michael Marmot of University College London, UK, who reported some of his findings in The Lancet yesterday.

His interim report says: "In all regions, the global financial crisis has added urgency to consideration of dramatic financial inequities, within and between countries, which preceded it.

"As standards of living decrease in many countries, and government revenues are tightened, we would argue that it is even more urgent that the distributional effects of all policies are taken into account in policy decision making."

WHO director general Dr Margaret Chan said: "The differences, within and between countries, in income levels, in opportunities, in health status, and in access to care are greater today than at any time in recent history.

"A world that is greatly out of balance in matters of health is neither stable nor secure."

WHO says that since 2008 progress has been made in some countries. For example, Brazil has set up its own commission on health inequalities, Costa Rica's government has committed to improving health inequity, and Australia has collaborated with the WHO Pacific region on its own plans.

India has also made substantial progress, with initiatives such as the rural employment guarantee scheme and wider rights to education.

Professor Marmot reports: "Social cohesion, an educated population, good employment and working conditions, and policies that foster processes of social inclusion is good for health and good for society as a whole.

"The Rio summit offers the opportunity to ensure that failure to implement a widely supported agenda does not happen again."

Building of the global movement for health equity: from Santiago to Rio and beyond. Marmot, M. et al. The Lancet October 19 2011.

Tags: Europe | General Health | World Health

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