World Health Day 2021: Highlighting Inequality in Healthcare
April 7, 2021
In a year filled with unimaginable loss of life and tremendous uncertainty, public health efforts took center stage as the world struggled to contain and cope with COVID-19. As the virus spread, we were reminded that borders don’t stop disease, and we are all connected intimately in our efforts to stem the tide of this pandemic.
Yet while we all have an equal part to play in curbing the spread of COVID, we don’t all have equal access to healthcare, or basic preventive measures such as masks and hand sanitizer – let alone the option to work remotely to reduce the possibility of exposure.
The COVID-19 pandemic provides another stark reminder that our world is an unequal one. Factors that are largely out of our control – where we are born, inherited wealth, age, etc. – can dictate who has access to healthcare services and who does not. This is not new. It is not a unique situation borne from a global pandemic: this global pandemic has laid bare a dire situation.
While COVID-19 has hit all countries indiscriminately, its impact continues to highlight more vulnerable areas. A recent New York Times article highlights the inequity, finding that the richest countries have received 86% of vaccines administered so far, with only 0.1% of doses administered in low-income countries. While the disparity between rich and poor countries is evident, there remains tremendous inequality even within the same borders.
This year’s theme for World Health Day is Building a fairer, healthier world. Simple in its message, yet complicated in execution, it is incumbent upon all of us to make this aspiration a reality – urgently.
As cases across the world rise again, a global and inclusive mindset must be applied to any and all healthcare efforts. As vaccinations have been rolled out over the past several months, we have seen the power of science-based approaches in fighting COVID. However, vaccines will only be as effective as their distribution pipeline and that requires that ALL countries receive access to vaccines, not just the rich ones. A global problem requires a global solution. We already know that borders won’t stop this virus.
Source: Who Can and Can’t Get Vaccinated Right Now. The New York Times. March 19, 2021. Available online: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/03/19/world/covid-vaccine-inequality.html
The COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access, more commonly known as Covax, is a global initiative aimed at providing equitable access to COVID vaccines across the world. The program, led by UNICEF, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the World Health Organization (WHO) is an admirable step, but rollout has been slow, and doses are not shared equally between countries. Reports indicate that even if Covax meets its target, we would still fall short of the level of population immunity that experts say is needed to end the pandemic.
As communicators in healthcare, we have a unique responsibility to ensure that everyone has access to lifesaving information. While we don’t have the ability to provide vaccines to all, we have the power to ensure that people are equipped to make the best possible decisions for themselves and their loved ones – and, that they can find the information and resources they need to act upon those decisions. The importance of providing people with cogent, accessible information goes far beyond the current pandemic and is the cornerstone of all our client work – and, of public health.
As the virus began to surge in March of 2020, we saw a dearth of clear communication and were often presented with conflicting information from the highest levels of government. While we can’t enumerate the number of lives lost due to misinformation, there is no doubt it contributed to the devastating toll we’ve seen to date.
This isn’t the first global pandemic, and it won’t be the last. We need to take what we have learned and are still learning and implement global measures to mitigate future outbreaks of disease – and prevent outbreaks of misinformation. I don’t profess to have all the answers, but building a fairer, healthier healthcare system starts when all people, not just those who can pay for it, can access it.