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Health Equity

British Columbia has a high-quality health system, supported by strong health research. However, there is not equal access to care, information and health support for everyone.

What is health equity?

Health equity means everyone has a fair opportunity to meet their health potential. 

Health equity strives for the highest possible standard of health for all people and gives attention to those at greatest risk of poor health, based on social conditions. This means fairness in:
  • distribution of resources needed for health, 
  • access to the opportunities available, and, 
  • supports offered to people when they are ill or trying to prevent illness. 
Health equity exists when all people can reach their full health potential and are not disadvantaged from attaining it because of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, age, social class, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation or other socially determined circumstance. 

Health inequities are differences in health outcomes that are unfair and avoidable. Health differences result from social, economic, demographic, geographic, or environmental disadvantages.  

What factors affect health equity?

Many of the things that affect our health lie outside of the health sector (e.g., living or working conditions, social supports, income, employment or educational opportunities, etc.). These are called “social determinants of health”, non-medical factors that can positively or negatively influence health outcomes. 

Social determinants of health impact a person’s access to healthcare and therefore the health system has a responsibility to pursue health equity. An equitable health system offers services that are accessible, available, and acceptable to everyone.

Many of us do not have the same opportunities to be as healthy as others

British Columbia has a leading health system that provides high-quality service. However, there are important differences in the health outcomes of British Columbians, particularly among:
  • Children and families living in poverty,
  • People with mental health concerns, 
  • People who use substances, 
  • Indigenous peoples and communities, 
  • People living in rural and remote areas, 
  • Immigrants, and 
  • Refugees. 
Improving health equity can benefit every British Columbian, but is particularly important for those who do not have the same opportunities to be as healthy as others due to system level social disadvantages. 

Our opportunities for better health begin where we live, learn, work & play

About 75% of our overall health is determined by social factors like working or living conditions, social supports, income, and educational opportunities. These social factors strongly affect the rates of chronic disease and injury, leading to different levels of health and well-being for different groups. 

Reducing health inequities could help reduce chronic diseases and benefit the immediate and long-term health outcomes of individuals and communities. To promote health and reduce the rates of chronic diseases and injury, Population & Public Health works with a variety of partners to improve conditions where people live, learn, work, and play.

The health system plays a key role in reducing inequities                                                

The things that affect health strongly impact the ability of health professionals and the health system to provide good care. For example, many people and families seeking care experience difficulty accessing health services due to barriers such as transportation, language, or cultural differences. Some people’s living and working conditions or their educational background make it difficult for them to navigate the health system or comply with recommended treatment. 

The BCCDC has a role to play in improving health equity, and how we plan and deliver our services matters. Our 2016 report, Priority health equity indicators for British Columbia, highlights patterns of inequity across the life course that contributes to future action on equity. 

For our health system to be equitable, we should strive to ensure that our services are available, accessible, and acceptable to everyone.

Reports & resources

Indigenous Funders Dialogue: Summary Report

In spring of 2020, the Population and Public Health and Chee Mamuk teams at the BCCDC collaborated with Reciprocal Consulting to host a multi-phased dialogue with a targeted group of supportive funders in order to support awareness of common barriers in granting processes and how these may be transformed to more meaningfully engage and address the needs of Indigenous organizations and communities. Our purpose was to share Indigenous perspectives about barriers to mainstream funding processes and identify strategies to strengthen inclusivity and engagement with communities most in need of funding support.  This report is a summary of the dialogue and recommendations from participants. Released: January 2021

Priority health equity indicators for BC: Selected indicators report

This report summarizes 16 of the 52 prioritized health equity indicators for BC. It provides current evidence for some health inequities in early life, adolescence, and adulthood among BC populations across geographic, demographic and socio-economic dimensions. Released: January 2016

Developing priority health equity indicators for British Columbia: Process & outcome report

Describes the process used to develop a set of priority population-level health equity indicators that may be useful to monitor health equity across B.C. Released: October 2014

Promoting health equity: Choosing appropriate indicators: Literature scan

Literature scan on appropriate indicators to measure health equity in B.C.'s health system. Released: March 2013

Towards reducing health inequities: A health system approach to chronic disease prevention

This discussion paper outlines the actions the health system can take to promote health equity and ensure its policies, programs, and services are available, accessible, and acceptable to all. Released: 2010-2011

In developing the discussion paper, working groups prepared additional resources related to reducing health inequities in three underserved populations of interest: individuals transitioning into and out of the corrections system, immigrants, and refugees.

Corrections population

Immigrant population

Refugee population

A second look: Applying a sex, gender, & diversity lens to health inequities in British Columbia

The BC Centre of Excellence for Women's Health developed Taking a second look, an epidemiological analysis of health inequities with a sex, gender, and diversity lens. 

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