The COVID-19 pandemic has upended nearly all the safeguarding systems in the lives of children and youth, such as family life, school, extracurricular activities, sports, unstructured social opportunities, health care, and church. With many of the typical promotive and protective factors disrupted all at once, and for so long, the mental health of children and youth has deteriorated in many areas, but not all, and for many children and youth, but not all. It is important to acknowledge, however, that the mental health of children and youth was in crisis before the pandemic, with 1 in 7 children and youth worldwide having a mental disorder. Given the continued decline in this area of health, children and youth may well be on the cusp of a “generational catastrophe” that could involve lasting harms if immediate action is not taken. Of particular concern are marginalized and vulnerable children and youth—they are the ones unduly enduring the brunt of this global crisis. Accordingly, child and youth mental health recovery must be prioritized, along with the reduction of inequity within and across countries. A commitment to public health strategies that never include harming children and youth as a tolerated side effect must also be made.
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Tracy Vaillancourt and Peter Szatmari
Ricardo Ventura Santos, James R. Welch, Ana Lucia Pontes, Luiza Garnelo, Andrey Moreira Cardoso, and Carlos E. A Coimbra Jr.
Victims of epidemics, slavery, genocide, and countless other episodes of violence during the colonial enterprise in Brazil, which continues decades into the 21st century in some regions, Indigenous peoples face health inequities resulting from a five-century history of social marginalization and vulnerability. Since the late 1990s, the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples in the country have benefited from progressive legislation that values sociocultural diversity within a public primary healthcare subsystem attending to Indigenous peoples living in federal Indigenous lands. However, these transcultural ideals remain elusive in practice. The Indigenous Healthcare Subsystem continues to suffer from numerous systemic problems, including low quality of local services, lack of health professional training for work in intercultural contexts, and unpreparedness for attending to health emergencies involving Indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation. Being Indigenous in Brazil in the 2020s implies greater chances of higher infant mortality, lower life expectancy, suffering from undernutrition and anemia during childhood, living with a high burden of infectious and parasitic diseases, being exposed to a swift process of nutritional transition, and experiencing a surge in chronic violence. Community case studies have shown the importance of close patient follow-up over long periods of time, the heavy burden of disease due to nutrition transition since the mid-1980s, the relevance of international reference curves for evaluating Indigenous child undernutrition, and failures of primary healthcare provided to Indigenous populations. Improvements in national health information systems in Brazil beginning in the early 2000s have shown external causes, perinatal diseases, infectious and parasitic diseases, and respiratory diseases to be the leading causes of death among the country’s Indigenous population.
There are 1 billion migrants in the world today, which means that one in seven of the world’s population are migrants. Of these, 272 million are international migrants and 763 million are internal migrants. It is estimated that around 70 million of the world’s migrants, both internal and international, have been forcibly displaced. Many things force people to leave their homes in search of a better future: war, poverty, persecution, climate change, desertification, urbanization, globalization, inequality, and lack of job prospects. Migrants remain among the most vulnerable members of society even when their living conditions improve after migration. Migrant women and children are a particularly vulnerable group and have a great need for basic and preventive health care. Many refugees and migrants are young and in good health, but hard living conditions and difficulty accessing basic health care can affect their state of health. Many of them face inhuman journeys during migration and live in refugee camps with very low standards of hygiene; when they find a job, they are often exploited. All these things can also affect their mental health. Migrants struggle with similar challenges as other marginalized groups when it comes to access to health care, but they face the additional barriers of mobility, language barriers, cultural differences, lack of familiarity with local health care services, and limited eligibility for publicly and privately funded health care. Governments should provide affordable preventive and basic health care to refugees and migrants not only because it is a human right but also because in the long term it can lower the costs of the whole health care system.
William A. Vega and Esther J. Calzada
Undermining educational attainment at any stage is a threat to life course health. A strong educational platform is required for adequate human development in the 21st century because it provides a foundation for lifelong knowledge, skills, and competencies that protect health. The importance of educational attainment for health has been acknowledged but remains understudied as an interdisciplinary issue. In US American society, unequal educational opportunity is a historical reality and is reflected in health disparities among African American and Latinx populations over the life span. Reform efforts have been initiated for decades, yet gains in educational attainment show limited progress and wide disparities in lifetime health persist. Educational attainment is a fundamental social determinant of health because it leverages higher income, improves the management of other social determinants of health, improves social skills, improves occupational life chances, and extends life expectancy. The reverse is also true. Low educational attainment that is intergenerational imperils human development by failing to prepare youth with the capabilities to overcome structural disadvantages and poverty, which themselves imperil development. African American and Latinx populations in the United States, who together represent nearly 100 million people and who will be the largest component of the majority-minority American population by the year 2046, confront a web of aversive social determinants, including poverty in de facto segregated communities, violence and trauma, toxic exposures, poorly compensated and often temporary employment, a lack of universal health insurance, racism, and sexism in their daily lives. Clearly, there are social, biologic, and psychological issues associated with the educational attainment and health gradient, and early childhood learning experiences represent a critically important opportunity for human potential by advancing cognitive performance, problem-solving ability, motivation to learn, and overall structural and functional brain development. Families from low educational attainment backgrounds experience the negative impacts of social determinants in their daily lives, and their children’s life chances are diminished by poorly funded schools with ineffective educational programs. Putative causes and potential responses to overcoming the historical problem of neglect have been identified, and there are promising efforts at educational system reform aiming to promote health with effective programs and comprehensive strategies that will close the gaps in educational attainment.
Aurea Maria Zöllner Ianni and Patricia Tavares Ribeiro
The second half of the 20th century saw the development of social thought in health in Latin America and the Caribbean in which the social sciences had a central role. Such an innovative development was based on the understanding that health and disease are social processes that require the understanding of different health contexts. The origins of this development dates back to the renewal of medical teaching in Latin America, which had important support from the Pan-American Health Organization. The so-called field of social sciences in health then took shape, especially beginning in the 1970s and 1980s. The social sciences became part of teaching and assistance activities in social medicine and public health in many countries and contributed to consolidating postgraduate programs and networks of professors, researchers, professionals, and government agents who were active in public health actions and policies. Regarding Latin American realities, the issues of inequality in incidences of sickness and death and in the healthcare delivered to populations became relevant during this time. In close dialogue with relevant social groups, these actors have been significant in constructing responses to health problems in the region. Given the profound political, social, economic, environmental, and sanitary changes that took place in the transition from the 20th to the 21st century, social thought has attempted to meet the new empirical as well as theoretical and conceptual challenges to social sciences as applied to health. The analysis of the trajectory of this regional development, its details, advancements, and limits, is an important endeavor that should help to encourage suggestions toward bettering public health as well as fairness in these times of uncertainties and of new risks for humanity, as evidenced in an unprecedented way in the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
It is well recognized that preexisting social connections and networks help people adapt and provide for more positive outcomes in the aftermath of a disaster. The role of place, of local neighborhood, in helping people to adapt and manage through the difficult times is developing. Neighborhood, the place where people live, can help facilitate the important informal response to disasters—where residents come together and provide mutual support. Features such as well-defined geography, intimate streets, walkable access to social infrastructure and natural spaces, and central meeting places all help to build the social connections that foster community resilience. Another important element is the community-focused groups that are already in place, especially ones with people who know their areas and who to support. Community resilience is a consequence of having good social connections, with social infrastructure helping to facilitate those connections; these are the same social and physical characteristics of neighborhoods that influence local health and well-being. The main message is that it is possible to develop urban environments in a way that provides multiple benefits. Social connections make people happier and healthier; they can learn from village life that can improve their future living environments, ones that are healthy and resilient. A vibrant well-connected neighborhood community with walkable access to natural spaces, to local shops and schools, and to places for locals to gather is healthy, self-reliant, and more resilient.
Sandy Magaña, Nazanin Heydarian, and Sandra Vanegas
Compared to the general population, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) face worse health outcomes, and outcomes are even worse for children and adults with IDD from minoritized populations. Examining the intersection of people with IDD from minoritized groups is critical to understanding appropriate policies and services that promote health among all people with IDD. People with IDD from minoritized racial and ethnic groups have greater exposure to detrimental social determinants of health, which leads to poor access to adequate healthcare and poor health outcomes. Policies that aim to improve health outcomes among people with IDD and that are related to their disability and appropriate accommodations are not enough. Policies need to address poverty in families, racism and discrimination, poor housing, and other social determinants that are more prevalent among minoritized populations. Most research on racial and ethnic disparities among children and adults with IDD has been conducted in the United States. While there is emerging research globally on racial and ethnic disparities, there a paucity of this research in the field of IDD. Furthermore, there may be detrimental health effects for other minoritized groups, such as religious minorities, but research is lacking in this area. Clearly, more research on these intersections is needed in the global context.
Despite the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) more than 30 years ago, people with disabilities experience significant barriers to exercising their right to sexual and reproductive health throughout their life course. The historical segregation and stigmatization of disabled individuals has created the conditions in which members of this population experience persistent disparities in the prevalence of adverse health conditions and inadequate attention to care, along with disparities in preventive care, health promotion, and access to health care services. These disparities manifest in social services and health care generally and also in the sphere of sexual and reproductive health. Among many direct care workers, health care providers, and family members, assumptions persist that individuals with disabilities are asexual, unable to exercise informed consent to sexual activity, and unable to carry a pregnancy to term or to parent successfully. These assumptions adversely affect the ability of individuals with disabilities to access basic information about their sexual health and function in order to make informed decisions about their sexual activity, and also impact their access to preventive health screening, contraception, and perinatal care. Inadequate transportation and physically inaccessible environments and equipment such as examination tables pose additional barriers for some disabled individuals. A lack of training in disability-competent care among health care professionals is a pervasive problem and presents yet another challenge to obtaining appropriate and necessary information and care. Despite these barriers, the research shows that more and more women with disabilities are having children, and there is an increasing recognition that people with disabilities have a right to sexual expression and appropriate sexual and reproductive health care , accompanied by a gradual evolution among social services and health care providers to provide the necessary information and support.
Shaon Lahiri, Elizabeth Costenbader, and Jeffrey B. Bingenheimer
Research in diverse fields has examined how social and gender norms, broadly defined as informal rules of acceptable behavior in a given group or society, may influence sexual and reproductive health outcomes. One set of conceptual and empirical approaches has focused on perceptions of how commonly others perform a behavior and the extent to which others support or approve of the behavior. Another set of approaches has focused on how social norms emerge from structures of gender and power that characterize the social institutions within which individuals are embedded. Interventions intended to improve sexual and reproductive health outcomes by shifting social and gender norms have been applied across a wide range of populations and settings and to a diverse set of behaviors, including female genital mutilation/cutting, the use of modern contraceptive methods, and behavioral risk reduction for HIV. Norms-based intervention strategies have been implemented at multiple socioecological levels and have taken a variety of forms, including leveraging the influence of prominent individuals, using community activities or mass media to shift attitudes, and introducing legislation or policies that facilitate the changing of social norms. Recent advances in social and gender norms scholarship include the integration of previously disparate conceptual and empirical approaches into a unified multilevel framework. Although challenges remain in measuring social and gender norms and studying their impacts on sexual and reproductive health-related behaviors across cultures, the research will continue to shape policies and programs that impact sexual and reproductive health globally.
Madeleine Short Fabic, Yoonjoung Choi, and Fredrick Makumbi
Sexual and reproductive health (SRH) surveys around the world, especially in low- and middle-income countries, have been and continue to be the primary sources of data about individual-, community-, and population-level sexual and reproductive health. Beginning with the Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices surveys of the late 1950s, SRH surveys have been crucial tools for informing public health programming, healthcare delivery, public policy, and more. Additionally, major demographic and health modeling and estimation efforts rely on SRH survey data, as have thousands of research studies. For more than half a century, surveys have met major SRH information needs, especially in low- and middle-income countries. And even as the world has achieved impressive information technology advances, increasing by orders of magnitude the depth and breadth of data collected and analyzed, the necessity and importance of surveys have not waned. As of 2021, four major internationally comparable SRH survey platforms are operating in low- and middle-income countries—the Demographic and Health Surveys Program (DHS), Multiple-Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), Population-Based HIV Impact Assessment (PHIA), and Performance Monitoring for Action (PMA). Among these platforms, DHS collects the widest range of data on population, health, and nutrition, followed by MICS. PHIA collects the most HIV-related data. And PMA’s family planning data are collected with the most frequency. These population-based household surveys are rich data sources, collecting data to measure a wide range of SRH indicators—from contraceptive prevalence to HIV prevalence, from cervical cancer screening rates to skilled birth delivery rates, from age at menarche to age at first sex, and more. As with other surveys, SRH surveys are imperfect; selection bias, recall bias, social desirability bias, interviewer bias, and misclassification bias and error can represent major concerns. Furthermore, thorny issues persist across the decades, including perpetual historic, measurement, and methodological concerns. To provide a few examples with regard to history, because the major survey programs have historically been led by donors and multilateral organizations based in the Global North, survey content and implementation have been closely connected with donor priorities, which may not align with local priorities. Regarding measurement, maternal mortality data are highly valued and best collected through complete vital registration systems, but many low- and middle-income countries do not have complete systems and therefore rely on estimates collected through household surveys and censuses. And regarding methods, because most surveys offer only a snapshot in time, with the primary purpose of monitoring key indicators using a representative sample, most analyses of survey data can only show correlation and association rather than causation. Opportunities abound for ongoing innovation to address potential biases and persistent thorny issues. Finally, the SHR field has been and continues to be a global leader for survey development and implementation. If past is prelude, SRH surveys will be invaluable sources of knowledge for decades to come.