By Dr. Kaycee Reyes
Health is wealth, as the cliché goes. Different regions around the world, however, have different life expectancies and health conditions. For example, a child in Malawi can live until 47 years old, as opposed to a child in Japan WHO can live up to 83. And according to the World Health Organization (WHO), 20 percent of children in the poorest countries are almost twice as likely to die before they reach five years of old than children who live in the richest 20 percent.
This disparity in health does not even have a biological or a genetic predisposition. Moreover, differences in health can also vary within countries. In the Philippines, for example, the National Demographic and Health Survey says that the infant mortality rate is higher in urban than in rural areas. Suddenly, your health depends on your socioeconomic status and where you live.
This is why governments and non-government organizations across countries strive to close the gap of health inequality. According to WHO, there are two determinants of health inequality: structural and intermediary/ social. Structural determinants are gaps in occupation, income, social class, gender, education, and race. Intermediary determinants include material circumstances such as location and housing, purchasing power, and the living and working environments; psychosocial circumstances such as significant life events, job strain, debt, and social support; biological factors that include diet, age, and lifestyle; and the health sector that can influence the health of society such as existing health programs, funding, and policies. Knowing these factors, why do countries need to close the gap? The WHO states that bigger gaps of health inequality in a society mean a shorter life span than in a nation with lower levels of inequality. Closing the gap is also important because it is unfair for other sectors of society that do not get adequate care or have poorer health just because of their education or income.
What’s more, health inequities can also affect a population like the spread of a disease, or violence in a community. Another reason is that health inequalities are avoidable, such as having government intervention by imposing health policies and funding and regulation of businesses that can change the overall health of the society for the better. Lastly, implementing ways to reduce health inequality can be cost-effective through policies that prevent or control disease and promote lifestyle and health changes in a community.
In a developing country like the Philippines, we often see the effects of urbanization where there is crowding, pollution, unemployment, and sometimes violence and crime rates that can affect the health not only of an individual but the whole urban area. Currently, improvement of public health is one of the government’s main goals. The government, however, also knows that closing the gap on health inequality does not only mean programs or policies to improve one’s health such as free vaccinations, sin taxes, or excise taxes on alcohol and tobacco, pro-environment policies, lifestyle programs, and other health-related policies. It also means working hand-in-hand with other government agencies to improve the quality of life of Filipinos. Improving primary care facilities, having a more comprehensive health program in schools, addressing economic inequality (corruption, weak governance, etc.), implementing a better disaster management strategy, changing infrastructure, and improving public transportation, even looking closely at trade agreements are all the factors that the government is looking into and should each be considered carefully to lessen the gap. It may be a long road to health equality in the Philippines, but remember that good health has a domino effect on society. Health is indeed wealth, but it should be available for all, not just for the wealthy.