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What is Health Equity?


In today’s climate, I think it is safe to say that most people understand Health Equity. Nonetheless, I understand being a bit disconnected at times. So for those of you who might be dangling somewhere between unaware and unsure of what health equity means, I will give you a hand.  

Everyone’s Got a Definition

Various definitions are used to place definition to health equity. For example, here are three: 

“…everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. This requires removing obstacles to health such as poverty, discrimination, and their consequences, including powerlessness and lack of access to good jobs with fair pay, quality education and housing, safe environments, and health care.” – Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

“…when every person has the opportunity to attain his or her full health potential” and no one is “disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of social position or other socially determined circumstances.” – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  

“…the absence of unfair and avoidable or remediable differences in health among population groups defined socially, economically, demographically or geographically”. – World Health Organization (WHO) 

These are all true. I like Health Equity defined as people having adequate access to health care and options to healthy lifestyles based on their needs. We are all at different starting points, so some of us don’t need as much as others and vice versa. Basically, it is about access to what is needed. 

Furthermore, needs are based on our social determinants of health – conditions and factors that influence our lives. Two very prominent factors are policies and systems. The reason being is because they shape and color the conditions of how we live.  

So what does it look like in practice?  

Well, there are many examples of tactics to increase health equity. A lot of money has been spent on issue campaigns. Tailoring them to be culturally competent, relevant and resonate with the target population. These days it is common practice for organizations to assemble a task force or hire consultants to address diversity, equity and inclusion. This is a positive step in the right direction because it forces the organization to do internal examination of itself.  

Where to Start?

It is equally (if not more) important to start at the bottom. Many times people and organizations jump into the health equity issue. But they fail to truly acknowledge or understand why the conversation of health equity even exists. If they did, we wouldn’t still be a square one. COVID underscored that. Organizations that are health focused must go back to basics. Take time to assess the organizational foundation

First, start by examining the mission, vision and goals. Do they truly uphold the idea of everyone having the right to access what they need? In the end, restructuring the foundation to include health equity infuses the concept into the very fuel that drives organizations and institutions.

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