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This past week I was very lucky to be given the opportunity to attend the Virginia Public Health Association’s Conference on Health Equity. The conference was held in Richmond, Virginia’s capitol, and welcomed people from around the state who were interested in learning more about inequalities in our health care systems, health outcomes and policy priorities.
The main point made at this conference was that inequities in health outcomes are caused by more than just individual behaviors or biological predisposition. Instead, quality of health can be attributed to comprehensive and systemic factors.
Like what? Think big: infrastructure, geography, education, language. Surprise, surprise -- our nation’s system is currently designed to disenfranchise, dis-empower and disregard our most vulnerable populations’ needs when it comes to wellness.
Let me paint a picture to better illustrate this idea:
Like most of the people in his neighborhood, Mark is a working class black man with no insurance coverage. Since the economic downturn, most of the nearby shops are empty storefronts and the nearest grocery store is two bus rides away. The closest sources of food and basic supplies are corner stores and fast food restaurants.
Many people in Mark’s neighborhood were laid off when the economy took a dive, and lack of job opportunity has forced several families into transitional housing or onto the streets. When property values fell and businesses moved away, public services were stretched thin, and the neighborhood school closed. Mark’s three children were forced to commute to a school located further away.
Mark is worried that his children are hanging with the “wrong crowds”, especially as drop-out and crime rates increase in the area. Unfortunately, there are no community centers or after-school programs for his children to attend, meaning they spend a lot of time un-supervised and un-engaged.
Mark’s apartment is often damp and smells of mold, but his landlord is not responsive to service requests. His youngest child has trouble breathing and was once diagnosed with asthma that worsens in the damp apartment.