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Article

Luiz Augusto Cassanha Galvao, Volney Câmara, and Daniel Buss

The relationship between environment and health is part of the history of medicine and has always been important to any study of human health and to public-health interventions. In Latin America many health improvements are related to environmental interventions, such as the provision of better water and sanitation services. Latin America’s development, industrialization, and sweeping urbanization have brought many improvements to the well-being of its populations; they have also inaugurated new societies, with new patterns of consumption. The region’s basic environmental-health interventions have needed to be updated and upgraded to include disciplines such as toxicology, environmental epidemiology, environmental engineering, and many others. Multidisciplinary and inter-sector approaches are paramount to understanding new profiles of health and well-being, and to promoting effective public-health interventions. The new social, economic, labor, and consumption aspects of modern Latin American society have become more and more relevant to understanding the complex interactions in the region’s social, biological, and physical environment, which are essential to explaining some of the emerging and re-emerging public-health problems. Environmental health, as concept and as intervention, is simple and easily understood, but no longer sufficient to achieve the levels of health and well-being expected and required by these new realities. Many global changes such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and mass migrations has been identified as main cause of ill health and are at the center of the sustainable development challenges in general, and many are critical and specific public health. To face this development, other frameworks have emerged, such as planetary health and environmental and social determinants of health. Public health remains central to some, such as the improved environmental-health agenda, while others assign public health a relative position in a variety of overarching frameworks.

Article

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.

Article

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.

Article

Street science is the processes used by community residents to understand, document, and take action to address the environmental health issues they are experiencing. Street science is an increasingly essential process in global urban health, as more and more people live in complex environments where physical and social inequalities create cumulative disease burdens. Street science builds on a long tradition of critical public health that values local knowledge, participatory action research, and community-driven science, sometimes referred to as “citizen science.” Street scientists often partner with professional scientists, but science from the street does not necessarily fit into professional models, variables or other standards of positivist data. Street science is not one method, but rather an approach where residents are equally expert as professional scientists, and together they co-produce evidence for action. In this way, street science challenges conventional notions in global health and urban planning, which tend to divorce technical issues from their social setting and discourage a plurality of participants from engaging in everything from problem setting to decision-making. Street science does not romanticize local or community knowledge as always more accurate or superior to other ways of knowing and doing, but it also recognizes that local knowledge acts as an oppositional discourse that gives voice to the often silent suffering of disadvantaged people. At its best, street science can offer a framework for a new urban health science that incorporates community knowledge and expertise to ensure our cities and communities promote what is already working, confront the inequities experienced by the poor and vulnerable, and use this evidence to transform the physical and social conditions where people live, learn, work, and play.