World Medical Association Urges Action to Reduce Global Health Inequality

(26.04.2016) A comprehensive programme to harness the potential of the world’s doctors to reduce health inequality is published today by the World Medical Association.

The report* by the WMA’s President Sir Michael Marmot shows how doctors can advocate and work towards reducing the wide and persistent health inequities that are found across the world. It cites a growing body of evidence which suggests that health professionals, and the health care system have the levers and influence to improve health for the global population.

Sir Michael lists a catalogue of examples from around the world to demonstrate the powerful effect of doctors working at all levels to tackle health inequality. His report says that doctors have a responsibility to advocate on behalf of patients and this responsibility could be achieved by better integrating the social determinants of health into the everyday work of doctors the world over. It sets out a strategy for the WMA and its 112 national medical associations, providing practical approaches for medical professionals and their associations to incorporate the social determinants of health in their everyday practice and broader societal roles.

Today’s report is published as leaders of the medical profession gather in Buenos Aires for the WMA’s Council meeting this week (Thursday-Saturday). Tomorrow Sir Michael is meeting the Argentina Health Minister Dr. Jorge Lemus and Dr. Jorge Coronel, President of the Medical Confederation of Republic of Argentina, to discuss the social determinants of health and other global issues.

Sir Michael explained: ‘Despite the global trend of increased life expectancy, large differences in health outcomes and life expectancy can still be seen. There are clear differences in health between social groups in all countries. The lower an individual’s socio economic position the higher the risk of poor health and the greater the likelihood of premature death. People’s health is shaped by the conditions in which they are born, grow, live, work and age. And it is inequities in power, money and resources that give rise to these conditions.

‘It is clear that doctors, NMAs and the WMA have a key role in tackling health inequality internationally, at a national level, at the local level, and for individuals and their families. Doctors witness these inequalities in their hospitals and surgeries every day. These grotesque levels of health inequality are unnecessary and avoidable and reducing them is a matter of social justice. To do this effectively it is essential to bring the health of less-advantaged people closer towards the level of the most-advantaged by tackling the root causes of inequalities.

‘What this report does is set out for the first time wide-ranging guidance to equip doctors with the necessary skills to tackle health inequity. It shows that there are significant actions that health professionals can take to help improve the conditions in which people live. I hope this will inspire them to take the agenda forward by encouraging them to shift their focus.’

*The report has been written by the Institute of Health Equity at the University of London, where Sir Michael Marmot is the Director.