Health equity is the state or condition where everyone enjoys the freedom and affordability to access healthcare services without biases, limitations, and differences. But unfortunately, that’s an ideal yet unachievable concept in today’s world. Healthcare inequity is a deeply-rooted global problem, not sparing people even in developed countries.
It’s not a simple affordability issue. Social status, gender biases, ethnicity, racial inequality, age, belief system, geography, origin, disability, sexual orientation, literacy, and many other factors complicate circumstances, increase inequality, and hinder access to healthcare facilities. As a result, millions are in despair without access to basic well-being facilities and services. So, before devising solutions, we must understand the root causes of healthcare inequity and take initiatives accordingly.
The following sections explore hurdles to achieving health equity and how to ensure universal and equitable access to healthcare services.
1. Inclusion of Marginalized Communities
Healthcare inequity is not a concern of underdeveloped countries. Those in developed nations also hold grievances for not getting needed and timely medical attention. Affordability may not be a barrier, but inaccessibility can affect their rehabilitation journey. As a result, they may also experience similar damage to their physical and mental well-being as those without affordability.
For instance, 85% of individuals in the United States with mental health issues belong to Hispanic, Black, Asian, or multi-racial communities. People from these communities are more vulnerable to feeling isolated, unheard, and lack access to mental health services than white people. Knowing what, when, and how patients need medical attention is imperative to meet their expectations and address the inequality gap.
Fortunately, nowadays, counseling groups are working tirelessly to shatter such barriers, and now BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) individuals can benefit from therapy treatments designed to achieve lasting and positive results. These BIPOC Counseling Services attend to sidelined and marginalized communities in an environment that embraces inclusion, diversity, and equity, addressing their mental health challenges and ultimately eliminating health inequity.
2. Ensure Access to Primary Healthcare
Studies on global healthcare disparity show millions lack access to primary healthcare. Some 13 million children succumb to preventable and treatable illnesses before they turn five. A third of the population cannot access essential medicines due to staggering prices. Nearly a quarter of expecting mothers give birth without the assistance of healthcare experts. And many cannot make it through life’s battles, leaving behind their newborns more vulnerable and defenseless.
In short, disadvantaged individuals and communities in underdeveloped nations are at the mercy of their fate without access to even primary healthcare services. Healthcare expenses push impoverished families and individuals further down the poverty line. People cannot escape such a fate until healthcare access is made possible for everyone. So, policies for inclusive healthcare coverage must focus on disadvantaged people, especially women, children, minority groups, and low-income families.
3. Provide Subsidies on Healthcare Services
Healthcare is the costliest public expenditure. A single individual’s healthcare expenses cost families a fortune, let alone reserve funds for the well-being and maintenance of other members. Millions, even in the most developed countries, do not have healthcare insurance to meet their well-being needs. As a result, they roam around hospitals to try their luck for subsidies and discounts on treatment. Unfortunately, hardly a few are lucky. Hence, they have to choose between fundamental human needs, such as meals on their tables, healthcare, or shelter. But hospitals or donors are not to blame for the public’s tragedies.
Governments are responsible for providing such relaxations to low-income families and individuals. Governments should allocate a separate quota for healthcare subsidies and ensure fundamental healthcare access for low-income and deserving patients.
4. Improve Public Awareness of Wellness
Since healthcare investment is a meager portion of overall public spending, it is unrealistic to anticipate more healthcare funds can solve the problem without addressing and resolving root causes. Without sustainable measures to control and curb the additional burden on healthcare infrastructure, additional funds will again fall short of ensuring universal healthcare.
Public awareness is one strategy to manage and minimize the infrastructural burden. Informed and educated individuals and communities can help control healthcare expenses and disease burdens. And such grass-roots level efforts and initiatives can yield quicker and more lasting results than reserving funds to accommodate and treat more illnesses. Informed individuals can take cautious steps for their well-being, save them from misfortune, reduce disease burden, and help extend healthcare to everyone.
5. Support And Involve Healthcare Workers
Healthcare workers can play a prominent role in bridging healthcare inequity. As much as their services relieve people, their voices can highlight how people suffer from negligence or inequality at different stages. They can help understand, recognize, and determine factors that increase healthcare inequity. Hence, policy-makers must invite them and value their analysis and observation.
But while doing so, policy-makers and healthcare administration must not disregard workers’ well-being. Neglected, aggrieved, ill, or exhausted workers cannot serve others attentively. If healthcare administrators and decision-makers do not facilitate workers and attend to their protests, they will find other ways to vent their frustration. For instance, negligence, mismanagement, and mishaps are prevalent in healthcare, where higher authorities exploit the rights of their lower-level workers and gamble with monopolies. As a result, existing gaps in the healthcare system further widen and affect patient safety. So, workers’ fitness, well-being, and contentment are preliminary to inclusive, equitable, and satisfactory healthcare services to others.
6. Augment Preparedness for Unpredictable Emergencies
Healthcare inequity is pervasive because the existing infrastructure lacks the capacity and flexibility to manage emergencies. It can hardly cater to the routine healthcare burden and workload, where unforeseen catastrophes can compromise its functions at all stages. We have seen how limited facilities and resources exhausted the entire healthcare infrastructure during the COVID-19 pandemic. Infections spread like wildfire, causing a record death toll globally. But you know what is more surprising? Statistics related to non-communicable diseases became more alarming. Pandemic-related chaos either disrupted or diverted attention from ongoing challenges.
Shortage of facilities, medical equipment, medicines, and healthcare staff further increased negligence and mismanagement, leaving vulnerable people more defenseless. As a result, the healthcare burden of coronary heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, HIV aids, hepatitis, cancer, and other non-communicable diseases increased. And lack of contingency plans for rehabilitation and recovery further widened healthcare inequity and increased public miseries. Stakeholders must spare and allocate additional resources to prepare for emergencies. Until healthcare infrastructure is robust, resilient, and flexible, additional disease burdens will only expose vulnerable people.
Health inequity is a multifaceted and systematic problem that affects people everywhere. But it’s avoidable with systematic, thoughtful policies and sustainable transformations. So, the first and foremost priority is to understand and acknowledge healthcare disparity. An equitable healthcare system begins with acknowledging, valuing, and attending to everyone. While achieving total health equity seems farfetched, it’s not impossible if the right strategies are implemented promptly and properly.