WHO Study Reveals Social Determinants of Health Equity in Europe
UN Photo/Lily Solmssen
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A study of health equity in 53 European countries has found the gap is stationary or widening, for a variety of reasons.

The World Health Organization report finds that income insecurity, poor living conditions, social isolation, lack of access to good quality service, and employment insecurity are the five main factors accounting for lack of equity in health.

The UN organization is calling for policy action beyond the health sector to address each of these issues.

10 September 2019: A study of health equity in 53 European countries has identified a gap that is stationary or widening. The World Health Organization (WHO) authors are calling for policy action beyond the health sector to address the factors accounting for the lack of equity in health, which include: income insecurity, poor living conditions, social isolation, lack of access to good quality service, and employment insecurity.
WHO launched ‘Healthy, prosperous lives for all: the European Health Equity Status Report’ prior to the UN High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage, which convened in New York, US, on 23 September 2019. Zsuzanna Jakaba, Regional Director of WHO Europe, stated that governments’ efforts to address health inequity will help achieve SDG 10 (reduced inequalities), which, she noted, is the only SDG not showing upward trajectory in the region.

Action to promote health equity can be effective within a short time, even within the space of an electoral term.

The WHO report provides country-specific as well as regional data, and uses innovative methodology to reveals the contribution of specific social factors to health outcomes, which is illustrated in numerous charts. The analysis shows how economic and social policies in non-health sectors interact with and influence health inequity.

Among the main findings of the report are that people in the most disadvantaged groups have lower life expectancy than average, by up to 15 years in the case of men, and seven years in the case of women, while life expectancy for the overall population has increased. Low socioeconomic status and education levels are also linked with a higher incidence of debilitating illnesses and poor health in general. Income insecurity and poor living conditions account for 35% and 29% percent of inequitable outcomes.

The report shows that inequities in mental health are just as prevalent as inequities in physical health, and that non-communicable diseases (NCDs) affect the more disadvantaged groups. For example, women with the fewest years of education are almost twice as likely to have diabetes as women with the most years of education.

WHO argues that action to promote health equity can be effective in a short time, even within the space of an electoral term. Such action would include: increasing government spending on housing and community amenities; increasing government spending on labor market policies; reducing income inequality; increasing expenditure on social protection; reducing unemployment; and reducing out-of-pocket payments for health services. [Publication: Healthy, prosperous lives for all: the European Health Equity Status Report]


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