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The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated underlying disparities and inequities in health and healthcare, increasing the urgency to address them. In this article, we explore ways for communicators to help drive meaningful and sustainable progress.
Inequity is found throughout every aspect of society, but health inequities often bring more severe consequences. Communities of color have a lower life expectancy with higher risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity and mental illness — even infant and maternal mortality (NASEM). Notably, health inequities go beyond racial lines and exist across gender, income levels and geographies as well.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), health equity is achieved when every person has the opportunity to “attain his or her full health potential” and no one is “disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of social position or other socially determined circumstances.”
However, the term ‘health equity’ is in danger of becoming a bandwagon issue and even a buzzword — when the focus should be on strengthening health systems. And while progress has been made and we’re seeing benefits as a result of greater focus on health equity, there is much more work to be done. Addressing disparities is both the right thing to do to improve people’s overall health — and it’s critical to reducing healthcare costs. As health equity remains a focal point in global discourse, there is room for optimism.
Action across the public and private sectors
Here in the U.S., the CDC established a web portal on Racism and Health to acknowledge and fight racism as a threat to public health. Governments around the world are bringing together health equity and environmental justice considerations to ensure climate solutions address the related health challenges communities face. In the private sector, trade associations like the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA*) included calls to build a more just, equitable health care system in their 2021 proactive agenda — and we have seen significant strides made by individual pharmaceutical companies addressing diversity and equity to break down barriers to clinical trial participation for under-represented groups.
On a global scale, initiatives like Access Accelerated* continue to pursue solutions to strengthen health systems in low- and middle-income countries, so that where you live doesn’t determine your ability to access the health care you need.
These efforts inspire hope, but more work must be done to make meaningful change and to build on the progress we’re beginning to see realized. And we must ensure we are not jumping on the health equity ‘bandwagon’.
Four ways communicators can drive action
As communicators, we too can help drive meaningful and sustainable progress in addressing health inequities. Here are a few ways:
Health equity cannot be a reputation driver. It is a mission that is worthy of rigorous and sustained effort — and one that requires a collective group to push forward and force real change.
*Indicates a Weber Shandwick client