Juan Garay, David Chiriboga, Nefer Kelley, and Adam Garay
There is one common health objective among all nations, as stated in the constitution of the World Health Organization in 1947: progress towards the best feasible level of health for all people. This goal captures the concept of health equity: fair distribution of unequal health. However, 70 years later, this common global objective has never been measured. Most of the available literature focuses on measuring health inequalities, not inequities, and compare health indicators (mainly access to health services) among population subgroups.
A method is hereby proposed to identify standards for the best feasible levels of health through criteria of healthy, replicable, and sustainable (HRS) models. Once the HRS model countries were identified, adjusted mortality rates were applied to age- and sex-specific populations from 1950 to 2015, by calculating the net difference between the observed and expected mortality, using the HRS countries as the standard. This difference in mortality represents the net burden of health inequity (NBHiE), measured in avoidable deaths. This burden is due to global health inequity, that is, unfair inequality, due to social injustice. We then calculated the relative burden of health inequity (RBHiE), which is the proportion of NBHiE compared with all deaths. The analysis identified some 17 million avoidable deaths annually, representing around one-third of all deaths during the 2010–2015 period. This avoidable death toll (NBHiE) and proportion (RBHiE) have not changed much since the 1970s. Younger age groups and women are affected the most. When data were analyzed using smaller sample units (such as provinces, states, counties, or municipalities) in some countries, the sensitivity was increased and could detect higher levels of burden of health inequity.
Most of the burden of health inequity takes place in countries with levels of income per capita below the average of the HRS countries, which we call the “dignity threshold.” Based on this threshold, a distribution of the world’s resources compatible with the universal right to health—the “equity curve”—is estimated. The equity curve would hypothetically be between this dignity threshold and a symmetric upper threshold around the world’s average per capita GDP. Such excess income prevents equitable distribution is correlated with a carbon footprint leading to >1.5º global warming (thus undermining the health of coming generations), and does not translate to better health or well-being. This upper threshold is defined as the “excess accumulation threshold.”
The international redistribution required to enable all nations to have at least an average per capita income above the dignity threshold would be around 8% of the global GDP, much higher than the present levels of international cooperation. At subnational levels, the burden of health inequity can be the most sensitive barometer of socioeconomic justice between territories and their populations, informing and directing fiscal and territorial equity schemes and enabling all people within and between nations to enjoy the universal right to health.
HRS models can also inspire lifestyles, and political and economic frameworks of ethical well-being, without undermining the rights of others in present and future generations.
Asa Cristina Laurell and Ligia Giovanella
Since the early 1990s, health policy in Latin America has focused on reform in most countries with the explicit purpose to increase access, decrease inequity, and provide financial protection. Basically, two different and opposed models of reform have been implemented: the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) model and the Single Universal Health System model. The essential characteristics of Latin American UHC are that health care is commodified by the introduction of competition that depends, in turn, on the payer/provider split, free choice, and pre-priced health service plans. In this framework, insurance, be it public or private, is crucial to assuring market solvency, because health needs not backed by purchasing power do not constitute a market that is particularly important in the Latin American region, the most unequal in the world. The Single Universal Health System (in Spanish, Sistema Universal de Salud, SUS) model is a model inspired by the principles of social justice and egalitarian, universal social rights. Characteristically funded by tax revenues, it makes provision of health services to the whole population a responsibility of the State and a universal citizens’ entitlement, independent of individual ability to pay or prior contributions. It considers health to be a public good that, for reasons of efficiency and equity, the market cannot provide. Everyone is entitled, as a right, to free care financed by the State.
Given that health system reform occurs in specific historical contexts, these models have had different results in each country. In order to highlight the concrete reform outcomes, the following issues need be addressed: the political scenario and the stakeholders involved; the previous health system and the relative strength of the public and private sectors; coverage achieved by public institutions or insurance, public or private; the different health packages existing within each country; the institutional (re)organization; and the relative importance of public health actions. An analysis is needed of the UHC reforms in Chile, Colombia, and Mexico, on the one hand; and the Single Universal Health System in Brazil, Venezuela, and Cuba on the other.
The UHC model in practice tends to increase inequity in access, create new bureaucratic barriers to timely care, fail to provide financial protection, and leads to deteriorated public health measures. It has also created new powerful private sector stakeholders, particularly in Chile and Colombia, while in Mexico the predominance of a strong public sector has “crowed-out” the private one. The Single Universal Health System has significantly increased access for millions that before reform had almost no access and has also strengthened public health actions. However, the strong preexisting private sector providers have profited from the public-sector purchases of complex medical services. Private health insurance has also increased among the upper middle class and workers belonging to strong labor unions.