Equity in Health

Global vaccination targets ‘off-track’ warns WHO
WHO: Geneva, April 2015

Progress towards global vaccination targets for 2015 is far off-track with 1 in 5 children still missing out on routine life-saving immunizations that could avert 1.5 million deaths each year from preventable diseases. WHO issued this statement calling for renewed efforts to get progress back on course in the lead-up to World Immunization Week in April 2015.

State of inequality: Reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health
World Health Organisation: Global Health Observatory Data, WHO Geneva, 2015

The report delivers both promising and disappointing messages about the situation in low- and middle-income countries with respect to reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health indicators. Within-country inequalities have narrowed, with a tendency for national improvements driven by faster improvements in disadvantaged subgroups. 

However, inequalities still persist in most reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health indicators. The extent of within-country inequality differed by dimension of inequality and by country, country income group and geographical region. The patterns of change in inequality over time varied by health indicator, and according to country and dimension of inequality. The report observes that while national averages and improvements over time are important indications of progress on a global level, reporting inequalities within countries shows how any progress in national averages is realized by population subgroups. Establishing goals and targets that specify a reduction in inequality encourages the orientation of policies, programmes and practices to promote health in disadvantaged subgroups. Without a dedicated focus on equity, efforts to improve health can risk perpetuating or intensifying within-country inequality, even as increases in national coverage are achieved.

It is time to focus on the real drivers of malaria
Tarlton D: UNDP Blog, April 2015

The author argues that eliminating malaria seems like a straightforward issue. Decades of malaria control efforts show there is more to the story. Much of the vulnerability to malaria, it turns out, is determined by human actions. The conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age define to a great extent who is vulnerable to malaria and who is not. Malaria is both a result and a cause of a lack of development. The author asserts that we know that it is those countries with the lowest levels of human development that are most affected by malaria. And within populations, those living in the poorest circumstances also suffer disproportionately. This year 2015 is argued to mark a turning point in the world’s response to malaria with adoption of the new global framework Action and Investment to defeat Malaria (2016-2030) that places the management of the disease as a development issue. Under this plan, countries will for the first time report their progress on incorporating non-health sector interventions into their malaria control efforts.

Social Determinants of Migrant Health
Lefkowitz B; Cacari-Stone L: The Conference on Social Determinants of Migrant Health, October 2014

This conference reports on work on the integration of social determinants of health – socioeconomic and structural factors – into immigrant health research and policy. A cross-national framework was used to consider issues of place, migration and health. In addition to public health, it drew upon the fields of economics, sociology of immigration, and social epidemiology, and incorporated three theoretical frameworks: the life-course framework from social epidemiology, the ‘push-pull’ factor theories from geography and economics, and transnational theory from sociology. It built upon recent academic literature, including a Social Sciences and Medicine (SSM) supplement on immigration and health, to formulate areas where more research is needed and to recommend potentially fruitful program interventions and policy changes. It integrated work with North American Latino immigrants, Asian and South Asian immigrants, African and Afro-Caribbean immigrants, and Arab immigrants, and research linking the migration to Europe of Arab, Turks and other populations, and to the Middle East of immigrants from Africa.

Unexplained health inequality – is it unfair?
Asada Y, Hurley J, Norheim OF, Johri M: International Journal for Equity in Health 14(11), 2014

Accurate measurement of health inequities is indispensable to track progress or to identify needs for health equity policy interventions. A key empirical task is to measure the extent to which observed inequality in health – a difference in health – is inequitable. Empirically operationalising definitions of health inequity has generated an important question not considered in the conceptual literature on health inequity. Empirical analysis can explain only a portion of observed health inequality. This paper demonstrates that the treatment of unexplained inequality is not only a methodological but ethical question and that the answer to the ethical question – whether unexplained health inequality is unfair – determines the appropriate standardization method for health inequity analysis and can lead to potentially divergent estimates of health inequity.

Why language matters: insights and challenges in applying a social determination of health approach in a North-South collaborative research program
Spiegel JM; Breilh J; Yassi A: Globalization and Health 2015, 11(9), 2015

A focus on social determinants of health provides a welcome alternative to the bio-medical illness paradigm. However, the tendency to concentrate on the influence of risk factors related to living and working conditions of individuals, rather than to more broadly examine dynamics of the social processes that affect population health, has triggered critical reaction not only from the Global North but especially from voices the Global South where there is a long history of addressing questions of health equity. In this article, the authors elaborate on how focusing instead on the language of “social determination of health” has led to application of more equity-sensitive approaches to research and related policy and praxis. The authors briefly explore the epistemological and historical roots of epidemiological approaches to health and health equity that have emerged in Latin America to consider its relevance to global discourse. In this region marked by pronounced inequity, context-sensitive concepts such as “collective health” and “critical epidemiology” have been prominent, albeit with limited acknowledgement by the Global North. The authors illustrate attempts to apply a social determination approach (and the “4 S” elements of bio-Security, Sovereignty, Solidarity and Sustainability) in five projects within their research collaboration linking researchers and knowledge users in Ecuador and Canada, in diverse settings (health of healthcare workers; food systems; antibiotic resistance; vector borne disease [dengue]; and social circus with street youth). The authors argue that the language of social determinants lends itself to research that is more reductionist and beckons the development of different skills than would be applied when adopting the language of social determination. They conclude that this language leads to more direct analysis of the systemic factors that drive, promote and reinforce disparities, while at the same time directly considering the emancipatory forces capable of countering negative health impacts. It follows that “reverse innovation” must not only recognise practical solutions being developed in low and middle income countries, but must also build on the strengths of the theoretical-methodological reasoning that has emerged in the South.

Determinants of immunization inequality among urban poor children: evidence from Nairobi’s informal settlements
Egondi T; Oyolola M; Mutua MK; Elung’ata P: International Journal for Equity in Health, 14(24), February 2015

Despite the relentless efforts to reduce infant and child mortality with the introduction of the National Expanded Programmes on Immunization in 1974, major disparities still exist in immunization coverage across different population sub-groups. In Kenya, while the proportion of fully immunized children increased from 57% in 2003 to 77% in 2008–9 at national level and 73% in Nairobi, only 58% of children living in informal settlement areas are fully immunized. This study aimed to determine the degree and determinants of immunization inequality among the urban poor of Nairobi, using data from the Nairobi Cross-Sectional Slum Survey of 2012 on full immunization status among children aged 12–23 months. The wealth index was used as a measure of social economic position for inequality analysis. Immunization inequality was found to be mainly concentrated among children from poor families. Decomposition of the results suggests that 78% of this inequality is largely explained by the mother’s level of education. The author suggests that efforts to reduce this inequality should aim at targeting mothers with low levels of education during immunization campaigns.

Distance decay and persistent health care disparities in South Africa
McLaren ZM; Ardington C; Leibbrandt M: BMC Health Services Research, 14(54), 2014

Access to health care is a particular concern given the important role of poor access in perpetuating poverty and inequality. South Africa has large racial disparities in access despite post-apartheid health policy to increase the number of health facilities, even in remote rural areas. However, even when health services are provided free of charge, monetary and time costs of travel to a local clinic may pose a significant barrier for vulnerable segments of the population, leading to overall poorer health. Using newly available health care utilization data from the first nationally representative panel survey in South Africa, together with administrative geographic data from the Department of Health, the authors use graphical and multivariate regression analysis to investigate the role of distance to the nearest facility on the likelihood of having a health consultation or an attended birth. Ninety percent of South Africans live within 7 km of the nearest public clinic, and two-thirds live less than 2 km away. However, 14% of Black African adults live more than 5 km from the nearest facility, compared to only 4% of Whites, and they are 16 percentage points less likely to report a recent health consultation and 47 percentage points less likely to use private facilities. Racial differentials in the likelihood of having a health consultation or an attended birth persist even after controlling for confounders. The results have two policy implications: minimizing the distance that poor South Africans must travel to obtain health care and improving the quality of care provided in poorer areas will reduce inequality.

Universal Health Coverage Assessment: Zambia
Chitah B; Jonsson D: Global Network for Health Equity (GNHE), June 2015

This document provides a preliminary assessment of the Zambian health system relative to the goal of universal health coverage, with a particular focus on the financing system and related aspects of provision. Zambia is making continuous progress in all the key areas of its health system. However, there are gaps which need to be resolved for the country to be able to realise the goal of universal coverage, including universal financial protection and access to care. First, a more equitable distribution of resources between urban and rural areas is required. Second, resources need to be allocated to promote access to, and utilisation of, health care by the poorer socio-economic groups. The higher consumption of public inpatient health care services by wealthier groups is a striking example of inequitable utilisation, as is the relatively greater levels of government subsidy received by wealthier groups, even for primary health care. Third, the impoverishing effect of out-of-pocket payments exposes poorer households to financial risk, driving households into poverty or further into poverty. This requires reconsideration of public hospital user fees, both in terms of the level of fees and the application of bypass fees (which are charged when patients bypass primary
health care facilities, including because of the severity of their conditions and their proximity to higher-level health facilities). Finally, Zambia’s ambition to introduce social health insurance as a mechanism for improving the pooling and purchasing of services needs to be scrutinised for its possible impacts on equity. The proposed social health insurance scheme would require co-payments and perhaps other contributions, which would increase the financial burden on households. This means that the proposed scheme could effectively run counter to the ambition of attaining universal health coverage. There should be a critical evaluation of the alternative option of simply continuing – and strengthening - the current tax-based financing system.

Improving financial access to health care in the Kisantu district in the Democratic Republic of Congo: acting upon complexity
Stasse S; Vita D; Kimfuta J; da Silveira VC; Bossyns P; Criel B: Global Health Action 8(25480), 5 January 2015, doi: 10.3402/gha.v8.25480

<p>&nbsp;<span lang="EN-US" style="font-size:12.0pt;font-family:
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mso-ansi-language:EN-US;mso-fareast-language:EN-US;mso-bidi-language:AR-SA">Commercialisation of health care has contributed to widen inequities between the rich and the poor, especially in settings with suboptimal regulatory frameworks of the health sector. Poorly regulated fee-for-service payment systems generate inequity and initiate a vicious circle in which access to quality health care gradually deteriorates. Although the abolition of user fees is high on the international health policy agenda, the sudden removal of user fees may have disrupting effects on the health system and may not be affordable or sustainable in resource-constrained countries, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo. Between 2008 and 2011, the Belgian development aid agency (BTC) launched a set of reforms in the Kisantu district, in the province of Bas Congo, through an action-research process deemed appropriate for the implementation of change within open complex systems such as the Kisantu local health system. Moreover, the entire process contributed to strengthen the stewardship capacity of the Kisantu district management team. The reforms mainly comprised the rationalisation of resources and the regulation of health services financing. Flat fees per episode of disease were introduced as an alternative to fee-for-service payments by patients. A financial subsidy from BTC allowed to reduce the height of the flat fees. The provision of the subsidy was made conditional upon a range of measures to rationalise the use of resources. The results in terms of enhancing people access to quality health care were immediate and substantial. The Kisantu experience demonstrates that a systems approach is essential in addressing complex problems. It provides useful lessons for other districts in the country.</span></p>