Trying to Ease the Social Determinants of Health

Public health officials have long understood that where somebody comes from – by economic group, by region – has a major impact on how long they will live and how healthy they will be.

But what can be done about it?

In a session with National Press Foundation fellows, Dr. Bettina Borisch described the process for “sustainable development goals” developed by the United Nations. Those goals have been developed to, the UN says, “achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.” They are interlinked and the UN would like to achieve them by 2030.

“When it comes to health, we always think of a hospital and a doctor,” Borisch said. “That’s not what determines our health. Our health is too important to leave it to doctors. Health is everything; hospitals are for disease.”

When it comes to health outcomes, two of the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals get at the heart of addressing the social determinants of health:

__Goal No. 3 says that “ensuring healthy lives and promoting the well-being for all at all ages is essential.”

__Goal No. 5 says “gender equality is not only a fundamental human right” but a “necessary foundation” for a prosperous and sustainable world. She detailed the connection between gender equity and health; outside of the impact of women experiencing physical or sexual violence by intimate partners, women and girls are subject to child marriage and female genital mutilation, both of which have serious impacts on health.

“We all know we are not going to reach the 2030 goals,” she said. “We are far behind it.”

But she said that an emphasis on the gender equity goal will have a major impact on all the other goals. “It’s just not something we invented,” she said. “It’s based on a lot of evidence.”

This program is funded by Fondation Ipsen and under the aegis of the Fondation de France. NPF is solely responsible for the content.

Dr. Bettina Borisch
Professor of public health, Institute of Global Health, University of Geneva
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