Changing the game on health inequalities: why it matters and what we can do (F2)

Towards equity in Europe – is the time ripe for change?

“Equity” is the new buzz word in public health land and has really gathered momentum at the European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG) 2019. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), health inequities are systematic differences in the health status of different population groups. It can relate to the differences in our education, housing, environment and many other indicators that determine our health on the short or longer term.

The EHFG 2019 dedicated an entire session to equity in Europe entitled “Changing the game on health inequalities”. The session was truly inspiring and showed the huge potential gains in improving equity in terms of life expectancy, quality of life and sustainable economic growth. Most remarkable or ”disruptive”, to stick to the theme of this year’s conference,  was evidence presented by Chris Brown Head of Office of the WHO European Office Investment for Health and Development in Venice. She highlighted several findings from the recently published Health Equity Status Report (HESR) for Europe. The report contains an extensive policy and data analysis from all WHO European Region Member Countries for the period 2005 – 2016. It not only identifies the main trends and status of inequity in health in Europe, but also presents concrete measures for politicians and policy makers that could immediately lead to positive effects on the ground. The latter must sound especially appealing to the politicians among us whom are often hesitant to invest in policies and services that they believe will only deliver results a long way in the future, in someone else’s political mandate.

The unique shape and format of the report could therefore be a real landmark in addressing inequities in Europe and perhaps finally lead to the change we need. It is crucial that our, mostly, democratically elected governments in Europe realise that much of the daily challenges their ministries, police forces and other civil servants face are a direct consequence of their own poor policy choices. For example, the HESR for Europe shows a 0.1% GDP investment in 3 policies (social protection, housing and community facilities and labour market policies) would result in a reduction of inequities in illness that limits daily life between those in the top and bottom 20% incomes. The HESR shows this equates to 250,000 lives improves in 4 years in a country with a population of 60 million. However, across Europe there has been an average 50% disinvestment in policies for social protection and housing and while there has been an increase in jobs. More than 50% insecure and the bottom 20% income groups occupy most of these insecure jobs.

With 84% of the Europeans believing that reducing inequities should be on the top of their Government agenda, it is perhaps high time we elect a Government that aspires the same. Otherwise these continuous poor policy choices could on the short or long lead to some real disruption on the ground, something far beyond the disruption we are seeking this year in Gastein.

This Blog was written by the Young Gasteiners Anna Stielke & Mischa van Eimeren

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