Five conditions must be met to achieve health equity, says WHO

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Liuba Negru
Communication and Media Relations Officer
WHO Regional Office for Europe
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Ljubljana and Copenhagen, 11 June 2019

A new set of strategic policies and practical tools will help European governments accelerate progress towards ensuring that everyone has the ability to lead a healthy life and to prosper within as little as five years. This is the main theme under discussion at the first-ever WHO European High-level Conference on Health Equity, hosted by the Government of Slovenia in Ljubljana on 11–13 June 2019.

The WHO Regional Office for Europe will launch its Health Equity Policy Tool at the Conference, which shows countries the 51 most effective measures for reducing health inequities. The Conference will bring together senior government officials representing the 53 Member States of the WHO European Region.

“Bridging the health divide has been a priority in the European Region over the past decade. We have made significant progress – today nearly one billion people can expect to live to the age of 78, on average. Despite this, significant health inequities within and between countries still exist,” says Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe and Deputy Director-General.

“The good news is that we know through experience that reducing health inequities is politically doable; we have evidence that it is economically viable; and we now have the authority to act thanks to public support. It is now the time to achieve the right conditions, accelerate progress and influence other sectors so that all people can prosper and flourish.”

Investing in the five conditions for health equity pays back

The Conference will highlight the five essential conditions for living a healthy life:

  • good-quality and accessible health services;
  • income security and an appropriate, fair level of social protection;
  • decent living conditions;
  • good social and human capital; and
  • decent work and employment conditions.

Participants will analyse these essential conditions; the relationships between health inequities; the degree of investment, coverage and uptake of policies that influences health equity outcomes; and potential dividends to society and the economy.

For example, decent housing and living conditions significantly affect health equity. High housing costs, the inability to keep homes warm, poor drinking water and a lack of access to public transport and green space are associated with poor mental health, self-reported ill health and an increased risk of fatal and non-fatal cardiovascular events.

The Policy Tool identifies 14 ways to measure countries’ improvements in housing and living conditions, such as stronger tenant protection and property rights, increased spending on housing and community amenities, better access to public transport and better integration of green spaces into communities.

“Lack of clarity on what actions to take and about which policies or approaches are effective results in common perceptions that health inequities are too complex to address,” says Dr Piroska Östlin, acting WHO Regional Director for Europe. “Solutions do exist and they are feasible. WHO stands ready to help Member States to introduce changes that will transform the health landscape across the European Region.”

The Conference will explore the policies and tools with the highest potential to reduce inequities. The final findings reviewed at the Conference are expected to be published in September 2019.