#GlobalHealthCorner: The Importance of Going Beyond Health Care

In the last few years, many medical institutes have started addressing the need to slowly move away from conventional health models. More than ever, it has become obvious that health is not a one way street. In fact, it is a path with many twists and turns, each affecting different individuals in different ways. while the conventional forms of our healthcare systems have traditionally been the key drivers of favorable health outcomes, in order to improve health for all and achieve health equity, broader approaches that address social, economic, and environmental factors are needed. One of the many ways that this is being achieved is through the implementation of social determinants of health.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), social determinants of health are “the non-medical factors that influence health outcomes. They are the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age, and the wider set of forces and systems shaping the conditions of daily life.” They include factors like socioeconomic status, education, neighborhood and physical environment, employment, and social support networks, as well as access to health care. Surprisingly, although health care helps us stay healthy, it is actually a weak determinant of health. Health is intersectional, meaning that it is determined by an assortment of factors. From genetics, to health behaviors, and social and environmental factors, health is not driven by health care alone. Our history of failing to recognize this, has lead to huge disparities in health and health outcomes within and between communities. “Addressing social determinants of health is not only important for improving overall health, but also for reducing health disparities that are often rooted in social and economic disadvantages.”

Around the world, many initiatives have been created to address social determinants of health. Many of these initiatives are also exploring different ways in which these determinants can be practically and realistically implemented across various regions and sectors of health. Some of these initiatives include policies that seek to address “non-medical, social determinants of health within the context of the health care delivery system.” With a focus on factors like health care coverage, government funding, and health plans. Many of these initiatives are attempting to find a way to balance the monetary demands of health care while ensuring that the social needs of patients are being considered. This means that the health of invdiduals shouldn’t be dependent on whether their health plan covers them or if the government is willing to pay for a particular treatment, rather it should be dependent on the needs of individuals and by the non-medical factors contributing to their health problems.

Some examples of social determinants of health include:

  • income and accumulated wealth
  • length of education – especially tertiary education
  • transport including ready access to healthcare services
  • social and community support
  • residential segregation
  • stable housing
  • community levels of crime and violence
  • recreational and leisure opportunities
  • cultural issues

Social determinants of health allow us to go beyond health care and ensure that we are addressing all the factors that influence the health and health outcomes of individuals. Even though the traditional structures of our current healthcare systems have played important roles in ensuring good health outcomes, understanding how social determinants interact with health, can help us address health issues much earlier and with much more effective solutions.

Together we can make an impact on the health of the nations and the generations to come.

The mission of WHEF is to increase accessibility to medications and supplies for healthcare facilities in Guatemala and Grenada. If you are interested in hearing more about the work we are doing, or in connecting with us, you can visit our website, check out our instagram or facebook, or sign up to receive our newletters. If you would like to support us in our work, please donate here.

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