This World Health Day is a time for governments, private sector stakeholders and advocates across the healthcare continuum to reflect on the foundational role health plays in building strong communities and prioritize increasing access to innovative healthcare solutions.
Two years into the global COVID-19 pandemic, we are learning many lessons about what it takes to respond to widespread health challenges, including the vital role cross-sector collaboration plays in reducing systemic barriers to care. All healthcare stakeholders including hospital systems, pharmaceutical companies, academic and research institutions, policymakers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) bring important perspectives, capabilities and resources to advance an inclusive, equitable and resilient future of health.
The pandemic revealed critical vulnerabilities in our global healthcare system, particularly when it comes to inequities that put certain communities at a disadvantage in managing their health and wellness. Structural barriers to health include geographical access barriers, financial roadblocks to care and infrastructure and resource scarcity. As widening health inequities and threats such as a changing climate, aging populations and the rise of chronic disease further strain healthcare systems, it’s imperative to align collective action around strengthening health systems post-pandemic. This way, their focus can be on serving as first line of support for communities — and investing in people, health and our planet.
There are several clear steps that stakeholders, brands and communicators can take to begin reducing health inequities globally — and clearly demonstrate how they are building the foundation for healthier people and a healthier planet. Here are three ways:
Start by listening.
Addressing inequities starts with understanding why they exist. Aside from the obvious access and availability issues, there are nuanced reasons why individuals around the world aren’t getting COVID-19 vaccines, being screened for treatable cancers or completing treatments for various conditions. Conversations with patient advocacy groups, survivors, patients, HCPs and other community leaders show a common set of barriers: a lack of awareness about preventable and treatable diseases, health misinformation based on those in their communities — and stigmas around diagnoses and treatments. By understanding the behavioral motivations and roadblocks of various target audiences, stakeholders have a better chance of encouraging patients to seek out care.
Consider the social determinants of health (SDOH).
Those who live in underserved communities typically face more social and environmental factors that negatively impact their health than others. Research shows that these social determinants of health account for between 30–55% of all health outcomes and 77% of all deaths from non-communicable diseases occur in low- and middle-income countries. This means that in low-resource settings, factors like safe housing, access to reliable transportation, polluted air and water and education all play a significant role in the health of a community. To that end, increasing healthcare equity isn’t just about reducing drug prices or building more hospitals — it’s also about improving the everyday living conditions of people around the world.
Champion inclusive data for health.
Data can tell a powerful story. Historically, clinical trials have underrepresented diverse communities — an issue which has led to a distrust of various medications by the communities excluded from the research as we saw when COVID-19 vaccines were first released. Recent research found that a majority of the genetic data that feeds into pharmaceutical research and development is largely based on the European genome. Only two percent of this genetic data comes from people of African descent, although it is estimated that more than 25% of the world’s total population will come from Africa by 2050. Collecting and analyzing African genomic data through clinical trials and structured data registries can unlock new medical discoveries that benefit all people, advance personalized medicines and ensure treatments are working for the people they’re intended to benefit.
Stakeholders across the healthcare system have the tools to make healthcare more inclusive and equitable so that the greatest number of people can benefit. By better understanding patient behaviors, following the data, understanding that patients are directed by hundreds of factors in their communities — and most importantly, by working in partnership — we can break down barriers and create a healthier tomorrow.