Friday, May 22, 2009

From Knowledge to Action for Health Equity

Dr. David Butler Jones, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, used the opportunity of his first Report on the State of Public Health in Canada to call for action on the social determinants of health, and the patterns of health inequality that shape the distribution of sickness in Canada. While the majority of Canadians enjoy good health, many face structural barriers that make it profoundly difficult to live healthy lives. As David Butler Jones points out, these populations are "more likely to need the health-care system for what are largely preventable health issues".

In a brilliant article published last month, health policy researcher Dennis Raphael suggests that although the social determinants of health are widely acknowledged in Canada, actual public health activities to strengthen the determinants of health are "sporadic at best". Ontario's growing system of Community Health Clinics offer one example of this sort of practice, and there are other valuable examples to learn from Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere in the world. This work reaffirms the need to transform our knowledge of the production of health and sickness into public health practices that actively enable people to live healthy lives. Equally important though, is the political task this work suggests: in a setting where evidence is clear and action is slow to follow, it's clear that evidence is not a substitute but a basis for politics and public action.