3 Examples Of Health Disparities And How They Can Be Solved

Juan Umbarila
Health disparities are rooted in unfair economic, social, and political resource distribution. It is a complex problem that requires immense efforts on many simultaneous fronts, but awareness is a necessary first step to tackle them.
Vaccination. Photo: EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid | Flickr

 Plainly put, Health disparities are differences in health access, information, prevention, and treatment. These are unfairly based on the distinction of social groups that are at a disadvantage in relation to others, in terms of gender, race, geographical location, and socioeconomic status. Therefore, such disparities should have no reason to be, and are in consequence avoidable and preventable.

Health attention is not reduced to direct treatment in case of sickness, but comprehends a wider scope of general living conditions; thus it is broadly related to access to care, education, safe environments, and other more general variables. In turn, Health disparities can affect what type of care you receive, if any; what health conditions you live in throughout your life; and how long you get to live.

That is why solving health disparities is such a complex problem that requires action on economic, social, and political fronts. Equitable access to care is just one of the dimensions, as it is access to information and education, not just for patients but for medical practitioners, healthcare workers, and policymakers.

In any case, awareness of the problem is the very first step to tackle it. Here are three types of health disparities that need urgent attention.

Gender Health Disparities

EU’s genre equality Index 2017. Photo: European Institute for Gender Equality | Wikimedia Commons

Gender Health distinctions are one of the most prevalent on a global scale. According to a recent survey, women’s health has generally decreased in the entire world, leading to issues in general physical health, preventive care, mental health, and “safety and basic needs, like food and shelter.”

Women are disproportionally affected by health distinctions. While some of the problems have complex socioeconomic roots, others are plainly noticeable assumptions and prejudice, many exercised by medical practitioners, policymakers, and researchers.

One example is sexual, reproductive, and maternal health. General patterns of obstetric violence, inattention to period health, and control over women’s bodies have direct consequences on access, treatment, and prevention.

And yet another problem comes from research, where a lack of differential approaches to women’s health leads to treatment issues and pharmacological development. One recent case was the development of the COVID-19 vaccine, for which human trials did not monitor menstrual changes, leading to side effects on women that were only discovered much later.

Racial Health Disparities

Percentage of ethnicities not covered by health insurance in the US 2008-2012. Photo: Rcragun | Wikimedia Commons

Racial health disparities are directed towards races and ethnicities which traditionally have a socioeconomic disadvantage in relation to traditionally hegemonic racial groups. They have historical roots and managing them must necessarily include dealing with structural racism and colonialism issues that are very much prevalent today.

This discrimination is not occasional but systematic, and is “often supported by institutional policies and unconscious bias based on negative stereotypes.”

One well-documented example has to do with the medical bias associated with pain assessment and treatment according to race. There is a false belief in the medical community that black people tolerate pain better than white people, which leads to undertreatment and incorrect medicine prescriptions.

Beyond that, socioeconomic inequalities produce health disparities in racialized groups, which leads to lesser life expectancy and overall worse health conditions during their lives.

Geographical Health Disparities

Urban Pollution. Photo: Jacek Dylag | Unsplash

Where you were born and where you live can greatly affect your health in terms of access to medical attention and services, but also in terms of the environmental factors that help shape morbidity and mortality rates.

Poorer places have less access to medical facilities, services, research, and education. This happens within countries and regions as much as it does globally, in north-to-south unequal relations. For example, fewer vaccines are developed for tropical diseases that uniquely affect the global south, since there is a less economic incentive for pharmaceutical companies to do so.   

Rural and urban distinctions also count for health disparities, even in countries with more homogenous income rates. Rural populations often have less access to services, and urban ones may face more challenging environmental conditions. Such is the case for air pollution, which, in the UK, is the largest environmental risk to public health.

As the climate crisis worsens, such tolls on public health will tend to make disparities wider. Only a public discussion, with a multilateral approach, can help reduce the health gap instead of making it bigger, which sometimes appears to be the case.

The DRA Project:

The Disparity Reducing Advances Project (the DRA Project) was a multi-year, multi-stakeholder project developed by the Institute for Alternative Futures (IAF) to identify the most promising advances for bringing health gains to the poor and underserved and accelerating the development and deployment of these advances to reduce disparities.

The DRA Project works to overcome health disparities by targeting the advances with the highest potential for reducing health disparities and then creating a network of organizations committed to accelerating the development and deployment of those advances.

What other types of health disparities do you know or have you experienced? What possible solutions should governments implement?     


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