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Health Promotion Forum of New Zealand Runanga Whakapiki Ake i te Hauora o Aotearoa

“Inequalities in health exist both within and between countries.  They are both unnecessary and unjust.  They also create a great cost to societies…”  These are the opening words of the latest Eurohealth; the quarterly publication of the WHO-hosted European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies.  Reporting on the 7th European Public Health Conference, this special edition for 2015 focuses on the issues discussed at the November 2014 event in Glasgow, Scotland. 

With the theme of the conference being “Mind the Gap: Reducing Inequalities in Health and Health Care”, EuroHealth articles look at:

  • How Roma communities are responding to inequalities;
  • The adaptation of health promotion and disease prevention interventions for migrant and ethnic minority populations;
  • The Glasgow Declaration;
  •  Learning from each other – where health promotion meets infectious diseases;
  • Public health monitoring and reporting;
  • Changing your health behaviour – regulate or not;
  • Developing the public health workforce;
  • Building sustainable and resilient health care systems;
  • Leaving a legacy in Glasgow;
  • Conclusions; and Eurohealth Monitor.

The European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies is a partnership between the World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe, the Governments of Austria, Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the Veneto Region of Italy, the European Commission, the World Bank, UNCAM (French National Union of Health Insurance Funds), London School of Economics and Political Science and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

Read more about inequalities and other significant health issues in Eurohealth Number 1, 2015 here.

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A paper published this year in Social Science & Medicine Journal has concluded that income inequality does indeed have a negative effect on population health and wellbeing; and that narrowing this gap will improve it.   The paper suggests ways in which governments need to act to address this growing problem.

“It comes as no surprise to us that this is the conclusion of this paper,” says HPF’s Executive Director Sione Tu’itahi.  “What surprises us is that there was ever any doubt.   This will be a strong addition to our body of evidence.  We implore governments in Aotearoa New Zealand and around the world to address inequality as the key to improving the health and wellbeing of their people.”

The paper’s authors cite world leaders, including the US President, the UK Prime Minister, the Pope and leaders at the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations, World Bank and the World Economic Forum; all of whom have described income inequality as one of the most important problems of our time.   Several of these leaders have also emphasised its social costs.  “Inequality is increasing in most regions of the world, rapidly in most rich countries over the past three decades,” they say.

“The evidence that large income differences have damaging health and social consequences is already far stronger than the evidence supporting policy initiatives in many other areas of social and economic policy, and the message is beginning to reach politicians,”  say the authors.  “The reason why politicians do not do more is almost certainly a reflection of the undemocratic power of money in politics and the media. Narrowing the gap will require not only redistributive tax policies but also a reduction in income differences before tax. “

The paper, by Professors Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson (pictured above), was drawn from a ‘very large’ literature review, including those papers that have previously thrown doubt over the causal link between income inequality and population health.   The outcome was a strong body of evidence to support the link, while those few papers that drew different conclusions were found to have been based on studies using inappropriate measures.

 

Photo: Guardian.co.uk

Story: Jo Lawrence-King

April 2015

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