“Health inequities are unnecessary, avoidable, and unjust,” said Professor Sir Michael Marmot in his keynote address. Sir Marmot is a world-renowned expert in health equity and is the Director of the Institute of Health Equity at University College London. He was knighted by Her Majesty The Queen in 2000 for his services in epidemiology and understanding health inequities. He was also the Chair of the World Health Organization’s Commission on Social Determinants of Health.
Sir Marmot challenged CDC leaders to make health equity an even bigger priority. He stated that “’today, right now, we have the knowledge and the financial means to reduce health disparities,’ but he asked, ‘Do we have the will?’” It is a poignant question that asks each of us to look at what we are doing now and what can we do better.
On the international level, Sir Marmot called for all national governments to establish two clear aims: to improve average health and reduce health inequities by striving to bring the health of less-advantaged people up to the level of the most advantaged.
Dr. Howard Koh, Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), spoke at the event as well and provided an overview of the progress that the United States has made in advancing fair distribution of health in the country, including Healthy People 2020, a 10-year, science-based plan to improve the health of all Americans. This plan includes specific goals to increase health equity and reduce health disparities by addressing the social determinants of health.
Dr. Koh also spoke about the two strategic plans aimed at reducing health disparities: 1) the HHS Action Plan to Reduce Health Disparities that outlines the department’s goals and actions to reduce health disparities among racial and ethnic minorities and 2) the National Stakeholder Strategy for Achieving Health Equity, a common set of goals and objectives for public and private sector initiatives and partnerships to help racial and ethnic minorities and other underserved groups reach their full health potential. As part of his talk, Dr. Koh highlighted the Affordable Care Act and how access to care can and will have an impact on health disparities in the United States.
“Reducing health disparities has been a priority since this national Center was created in 1995,” said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, Director of NCHHSTP. He emphasized that health equity is one of the key goals in the current NCHHSTP strategic plan and is a commitment in all of the Center’s programs. He discussed the many projects, campaigns, and initiatives underway to target prevention, treatment, and care services for populations most vulnerable and affected by HIV, viral hepatitis, STDs, and TB.
The take home message from this event is that health is a human right and, echoing Marmot, we need to do something, do more, and then do better. Some action, even small, matters.