Thursday, August 28, 2008

WHO: Social Injustice Kills

A recent report from the World Health Organization documents the influence of social injustices on people's life-expectancies and finds that social factors -not genetics - are the root cause of variations in health and lifespan between different populations. In fact, differences in living conditions between two neighborhoods located just a few miles from one another can mean a difference of more than twenty years in the life expectancies of the people of those communities. The BBC explains:

The World Health Organization (WHO) has carried out a three-year analysis of the "social determinants" of health.

The report concludes "social injustice is killing people on a grand scale".

For instance, a boy living in the deprived Glasgow suburb of Calton will live on average 28 years less than a boy born in nearby affluent Lenzie.
I was particularly struck by this chart, which documents the difference in average lifespans in two neighborhoods near where my parents currently live - Washington DC and Montgomery County:

The report also reminds us that a woman's chances of surviving childbirth are dramatically different depending on where she's living. "In Sweden, the risk of a woman dying during pregnancy and childbirth is one in 17,400, but in Afghanistan the odds are one in eight."

As we approach November's elections here in the States, I can't help but feel like the WHO report highlights what's at stake. The report's authors explain that:
"(The) toxic combination of bad policies, economics, and politics is, in large measure responsible for the fact that a majority of people in the world do not enjoy the good health that is biologically possible."


The report calls for governments to consider how all their policies impact on health.

The report highlights education, affordable housing, management of access to unhealthy foods and social security protection as key.

It also said that governments should take action to ensure a living wage for workers, and working conditions that reduce work-related stress and ensure a healthy work-life balance.

All of this highlights the fact that our own health, and that of our neighbors, is at stake when we cast our ballots. If we vote for candidates who would keep working women and the elderly in a state of poverty for the convenience of big business, if we support politicians who are not committed to social justice, we are essentially decreasing our nation's vitality - dooming it to sickness and early deaths.

Yet, how do I talk to conservatives in my own family about the importance of providing education, affordable housing, and security to everyone? When my brother-in-law tells me that it is not our responsibility to help the less fortunate 'because they are the victims of their own bad choices,' how do I respond?


Casmall said...

These are stunning numbers and should give pause to anyone who thinks that everyone starts with a fair shot at life.
I wonder how much infant mortality and youth violence effects these statistics

Anonymous said...

tell your brother-in-law that those people aren't necessarily victims of their own bad choices. that WHO study shows that not everyone is born with the same choices. and institutionalized oppression exists. my university has no day care on its campus at all. so what if a young mother wants to further her education? she can't. not without a support system that doesn't exist.