Health disparities aren’t just a result of the inequities in the healthcare system, but also other socioeconomic areas including housing, nutrition and education. To tackle these challenges, the healthcare industry is going to need to work with other sectors, declared Hans Kluge, regional director for Europe at the World Health Organization.
“One of the big challenges that we have learned over decades is that it goes beyond the healthcare sector,” Kluge said. “Because the root causes are what we call the social economic determinants of health. … In which circumstances are people living, working, the children playing? It means we need to [make] a massive effort to work across sectors.”
Kluge made these comments during a panel on health equity that was held Thursday at the HIMSS 2023 conference in Chicago. He added that the world needs to take a note from Finland when addressing health disparities.
“There’s a new concept driven very much by Finland, which is the Economy of Wellbeing. It means basically, we need to put health equity at the heart of all policies so that health is not only seen as a beneficiary of economic development, but a driver,” Kluge said.
Lester Martinez-Lopez, assistant secretary of defense for the Health Affairs Department of Defense, was also a panelist and agreed with Kluge’s comments about the need to work with other sectors.
“We need to bring a public health approach,” Martinez-Lopez said. “Everything we do, there is a health impact. Whether it’s education, whether it’s nutrition, whether it’s economics, there’s an internet of all policies at the national level that links up with everything. We need to acknowledge that.”
One area in which health equity needs to be addressed is clinical trials, Martinez-Lopez said. He stated that many pharmaceutical development studies only have 1 to 2% minority representation.
“We need to bring equity into trials, we need to bring equity into access,” Martinez-Lopez said.
When it comes to telemedicine and digital health solutions, rural populations and their lack of broadband access need to be considered as well, he added. Only 60% of people living in rural or tribal areas have access to high-speed internet connection, versus more than 95% of people in urban communities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“If you have a very fancy solution that only addresses fancy people in cities, you have to go back to the drawing table,” Martinez-Lopez said.
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