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
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.
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.
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 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.