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Health Equity

British Columbians are among the healthiest people in the world, and we have a leading health system that provides top-quality service. However, many of us do not have the same opportunities to be as healthy as others.

What is health equity?

Health inequities are health differences between population groups that are systematic, avoidable, and unfair.  

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. 

Source: National Collaborating Centre for Determinants of Health; adapted from Dahlgren and Whitehead, 2006 

What factors affect health equity?

Many of the factors that affect our health lie outside the control of the health sector  (e.g., living or working conditions, income, and employment or educational opportunities, etc.). 

Health services are also a determinant of health 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 all.

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

British Columbians are among the healthiest people in the world and we have a leading health system that provides top-quality service. However, there are important differences in the health of British Columbians, both among and between groups. For example, in some areas of the province life expectancy is ten years lower than in other areas. 

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.

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, 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 people of different groups. 

To promote health and reduce the rates of chronic diseases and injury, PPH 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 factors that affect health strongly impact on the ability of health professionals and the health system to provide good care, even though these factors often lie outside the control of the health sector. For example, many patients 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 care system or comply with recommended treatment. 

The health system has a role to play in improving health equity, and how we plan and deliver our services matters. Our 2011 report, Towards reducing health inequities: A health system approach to chronic disease prevention, identifies several actions the health system can take towards reducing health inequities. 

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 two related papers. Taking a second look provides an epidemiological analysis of health inequities with a sex, gender, and diversity lens. Using the same lens, Worth a second look identifies considerations for policy action to reduce health inequities. Released: November 2009

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