How can medical students fight global health inequalities? – The European Sting – Critical news and insights on European politics, economics, foreign affairs, business and technology

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This article was written exclusively for The European Sting by Mr. Anthony Collins, a fourth-year medical student at UWI Mona in Kingston, Jamaica. It is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA), a cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this article belong strictly to the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of IFMSA on the subject, nor that of The European Sting.


Health inequalities as defined by the WHO are systematic differences in the health status of different groups of people. This means that certain groups of people experience worse health care and find it increasingly difficult to access health care because of the systems that govern them. Examples of these inequalities include health status (e.g. life expectancy), access to care (e.g. availability of services), quality of care (e.g. satisfaction levels of patients) and the determinants of health (biological, psychological and social). These are deeply rooted in our society and affect not only individuals or the community, but also the broader healthcare system. To bring about a change, preferably a lasting one, everyone must do their part to solve these problems.

As medical students, we can play our part in addressing these health inequities. Advocacy is one such role – the voices of people affected by inequalities can be represented. Policy makers and government officials may also be pressured to make necessary changes. This advocacy can take many forms including raising awareness through campaigns, media prominence on various platforms including newspapers, radio, TV interviews, etc.

Further action can be taken by partnering strategically with other groups that have the same goal in a combined effort to meet with government officials to push for policy reform and implement policies with the contribution of the group or groups concerned in order to improve their accessibility, their affordability and their experience in the use of health systems.

Another role is through programs such as health fairs and outreach activities. This includes traveling to affected communities and/or areas to provide health care in the form of health checkups and wellness visits. This will act as a screening and monitoring system for these individuals to manage community health and reduce the burden on the healthcare system. It can also solve the accessibility problem in rural areas. Other stakeholders can get involved to address environmental issues that contribute to health care such as adequate housing, clean water, waste disposal, etc.

Finally, patients can be educated to acquire greater health literacy. This will allow them to better make more informed decisions about their health and manage their chronic conditions. This can be in the form of showing them how to treat their injuries or illnesses, group discussions in simple language and the distribution of material at their reading level. Alternative medicine is practiced by all in one form or another, which can also contribute to their literacy if used correctly and not replaced when professional medical attention is needed.

Greater inclusion of all groups is needed to address health inequities and reduce the significant rate of morbidity and mortality faced by these disadvantaged groups. This can be done primarily through health policy change and reform as well as addressing other determinants of health.

References

Health inequalities and their causes.
What are health inequalities? | The King’s Fund (kingsfund.org.uk)

About the Author

Anthony Collins is a fourth-year medical student at UWI Mona in Kingston, Jamaica. He is very passionate about research, forensics and pathology and therefore spends his time gaining experience in these fields. He also volunteers to help those in need and the environment. He is the Vice President of External Affairs of JAMSA Jamaica (Member of IFMSA), Secretary of the Rotaract Club of UWI Mona and Assistant Treasurer of UWI One Life where he gains further personal and professional development as a student leader in the service of his friends. .

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