World Health Day 2021: Building a fairer, healthier world

The following blog was written by Social Value International’s Membership and Networks Manager, Becca Harvey.

April 7 of each year marks the celebration of World Health Day. From its inception at the First Health Assembly in 1948, the celebration has aimed to create awareness of a specific health theme to highlight a priority area of concern for the World Health Organization. This year, World Health Day is focussing on “Building a fairer, healthier world”.

Knowledge around health, and the fairness (or lack thereof) surrounding health and health inequalities have been put into the spotlight during the last 12-18 months. Across the world, countries, communities and families have been put into various lockdowns, experienced social isolation, and in millions of cases suffered as a result of COVID-19. Global economies have taken a substantial hit, lives have been paused, and over 2.5 million people have died as result of a virus that we cannot see. 

Yet the inequalities around health, access to affordable health care, and health determining factors has been prevalent for many, many years. When looking at other global health challenges, from HIV/AIDS to typhoid, asthma to obesity, it is clear that many of the determining factors within these challenges are rooted in inequality, both within and outside the health sector. 

But as globalisation continues to spread, and our populations increasingly move across borders and boundaries, the importance of health for our global populations, and the wider implications this brings to our societies, is clear for all to see. 

Yet although COVID-19 has hit all countries hard, its impact has been harshest on those communities which were already vulnerable, who are more exposed to the disease, less likely to have access to quality health care services and more likely to experience adverse consequences as a result of measures implemented to contain the pandemic.

The global inequalities surrounding health, access to health care, and ability to prioritise health did not only exacerbate the impact of COVID-19, but in turn have been exacerbated by COVID-19. 

Across the world, COVID-19 has highlighted that some people are able to live healthier lives and have better access to health services than others – entirely due to the conditions in which they are born, grow, live, work and age. Some groups struggle to make ends meet with little daily income, have poorer housing conditions and education, fewer employment opportunities, experience greater gender inequality, and have little or no access to safe environments, clean water and air, food security and health services. 

This leads to unnecessary suffering, avoidable illness, premature death, and harms our societies and economies. Yet it is preventable. 

At Social Value International, our mission is to change the way the world accounts for value because we believe if decisions are made using a broader definition of value, one that goes way beyond the cost price of something, they will be made differently. And only when decisions are made differently are we able tackle the deep, systemic issues of inequality and environmental degradation. And this can clearly be seen in the case of global health.

If decisions around health are made, not solely based on the cost of accessing or delivering health services, healthy food, clean water and air, education, safe working and living conditions and other health determining factors, but instead on what matters to people, we can see a huge shift in the way that health care services, and other health protective factors, could be provided. 

There are a number of ways we can prioritise health in decision-making, from Health Impact Assessments to cost-benefit analysis, but what is clear, is that to tackle the injustices experienced by many as a result of health inequity, we must tackle the deep rooted issues of inequalities that pervade our global society. It is vital that policymakers and investors work hand in hand with affected communities and individuals to address the root causes of inequities and to implement solutions – within and beyond the health sector.

This year, the World Health Organisation has some amazing resources on how to improve health equity, and so, on this World Health Day, we direct you to engage with these resources and better understand how we, as a global community, can challenge health inequality, protect lives and make decisions based on what matters most to us all. For if 2020 showed us anything, it is that health cannot be taken for granted. 

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