UCL public health scientist, Professor Sir Michael Marmot, writes in a paper published in the Lancet journal on 18th March 2005 that a major new thrust is needed internationally to tackle health inequalities. Professor Marmot, Director of UCL’s International
Centre for Health & Society, will chair the Commission on Social Determinants of Health launched by the World Health Organisation on Friday 18th March bringing together scientists and policy-makers to help reverse the negative impact of social policy on ill-health.
Writing in the Lancet paper, Professor Marmot said: “To reduce inequalities in health across the world there is need for a third major thrust that is complementary to development of health systems and relief of poverty: to take action on the social determinants of health. Such action will include relief of poverty but it will have the broader aim of improving the circumstances in which people live and work.”
Greece for example, with GNP at purchasing power parities of just more than $17,000, has life expectancy of 78.1 years; the USA, with GNP of more than $34,000, has life expectancy of 76.9 years. Costa Rica and Cuba stand out as countries with GNPs less than $10,000 and yet life expectancies of 77.9 and 76.5 years.
The paper also illustrates how some governments are rising to the challenge:
Professor Marmot concluded: “International policies have not been pursued as if they had people’s basic needs in mind. (….) Recognising the health effects of poverty is one thing. Taking action to relieve its effects entails a richer understanding of the health effects of social and economic policies.
“The Commission will have one basic dogma: policies that harm human health need to be identified and, where possible, changed.”
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