Throughout history, knowledge and practices on the health of populations have had different names: medical police, public health, social medicine, community health, and preventive medicine. To what extent is the Brazilian collective health, established in the 1970s, identified with and differentiated from these diverse movements that preceded it? The analysis of the socio-genesis of a social field allows us to identify the historical conditions that made possible both theoretical formulations and the achievement of technical and social practices. Collective health, a product of transformations within the medical field, constituted a rupture in relation to preventive medicine and public health and hygiene, being part of a social medicine movement in Latin America that, in turn, had identification with European social medicine in the 19th century. Focused on the development of a social theory of health that would support the process of sanitary reform, collective health has been built as a space involving several fields: scientific, bureaucratic, and political. Thus, it brought together health professionals and social scientists from universities, health care services, and social movements. Its scientific subfield has developed, and the sanitary reform project has had several successes related to the organization of a unified health system, which has ensured universal coverage for the population in Brazil. It has incorporated into and dialogued with several reformist movements in international public health, such as health promotion and the pursuit of health equity. Its small relative autonomy stems from subordination to other dominant fields and its dependence on the state and governments. However, its consolidation corresponded to the strengthening of a pole focused on the collective and universal interest, where health is not understood as a commodity, but as a right of citizenship.
Collective Health: Theory and Practice. Innovations From Latin America
Ligia Maria Vieira-da-Silva
Public Health Impact of Breastfeeding
Colin Binns and Mi Kyung Lee
Breastfeeding is one of the best public health “buys” available for countries at all levels of development. In the first year of life, appropriate infant nutrition (exclusive breastfeeding to around 6 months) reduces infant mortality and hospital admissions by 50% or more. Early life nutrition has important influences, including on childhood illnesses, obesity, cognitive development, hospitalizations, and later chronic disease. Breastfeeding is consistent with the historical cultural practices of all societies, and its benefits of breastfeeding last a lifetime. While the development of infant formula has been of benefit to some infants, its inappropriate promotion has resulted in a decline of breastfeeding, and, as a result, health gains in many countries have not been as great as they could have been. The health benefits of breastfeeding will provide some protection against the effects of climate change, which will cause a decline in potable water supplies and increases in the incidence of some infections. Infant formula production has very high environmental costs, while breastfeeding as well as being the best infant feeding intervention also has very low environmental impact. An important part of the sustainable development agenda must be to promote breastfeeding and its benefits and to reverse the inappropriate promotion and use of infant formula.
Indigenous Health Policy
Ian Anderson and Kate Silburn
The United Nations estimates that there are more than 476 million Indigenous peoples across the globe, which is almost 7% of the world’s population. Although Indigenous peoples are defined in a variety of political and cultural ways, there is increasing recognition of the seven defining criteria for indigeneity as set out by UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Globally, Indigenous peoples tend to do less well than benchmark populations in health and social outcomes—although the degree of difference varies markedly between countries. Of the vast range of different in-country policy and service responses that address these inequalities, the collection of accurate and relevant data on Indigenous peoples is key to monitoring their health outcomes. Health and data researchers and policymakers have advocated for stronger Indigenous governance of both the data and health system responses. To achieve this, they have increasingly engaged a variety of global governances systems. Principally, but not exclusively, this advocacy has targeted UN mechanisms such as the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the Human Rights Council Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Religion, Aging, and Public Health
Jeff Levin and Ellen Idler
Religion, in both its personal and institutional forms, is a significant force influencing the health of populations across the life course. Decades of research have documented that expressions of faith and the practice of spiritual pursuits exhibit significantly protective effects for physical and mental health, psychological well-being, and population rates of morbidity, mortality, and disability. This finding has been observed across sociodemographic categories, across nations and cultures, across specific disease outcomes, and regardless of one’s religious affiliation. A salutary religious effect on health and well-being is especially apparent among older adults, but is also observed across generations and age cohorts. Moreover, this association has been persistently found for various religious indicators, including attendance at worship services, prayer and other private practices, subjective feelings of religiosity, and numerous measures of religious behaviors, attitudes, beliefs, and experiences. Finally, a protective or primary preventive effect of religion has been observed in clinical, epidemiologic, social, and behavioral studies, regardless of research design or methodology. Faith-based organizations also have contributed to the health of populations, in partnerships or alliances with medical institutions and public health agencies, many of these dating back many decades. Examples include congregational health promotion and disease prevention programs and community-wide interventions, especially targeting the health and well-being of older congregants and those in less well-resourced communities, as well as faith–health partnerships in healthcare delivery, public health policymaking, and legislative advocacy for healthcare reform. Religious denominations and institutions also play a substantial role in global health development throughout the world, individually and in partnership with national health ministries, transnational medical mission organizations, and established nongovernmental agencies. These efforts focus on a wide range of goals and objectives, including building public health infrastructure, addressing ongoing environmental health needs, and responding to acute public health challenges and crises, such as infectious disease outbreaks. Constituencies include at-risk populations and cohorts throughout the life course, and programming ranges from perinatal care to maternal and child healthcare to geriatric medicine.
The People’s Health Movement
Ravi Narayan, Claudio Schuftan, Brendan Donegan, Thelma Narayan, and Rajeev B. R.
The People’s Health Movement (PHM) is a vibrant global network bringing together grass-roots health activists, public interest civil society organizations, issue-based networks, academic institutions, and individuals from around the world, particularly the Global South. Since its inception in 2000, the PHM has played a significant role in revitalizing Health for All (HFA) initiatives, as well as addressing the underlying social and political determinants of health with a social justice perspective, at global, national, and local levels. The PHM is part of a global social movement—the movement for health. For more than a century, people across the world have been expressing doubts about a narrowly medical vision of health care, and calling for focus on the links between poor health and social injustice, oppression, exploitation, and domination. The PHM grew out of engagement with the World Health Organization by a number of existing civil society networks and associations. Having recognized the need for a larger coalition, representatives of eight networks and institutions formed an international organizing committee to facilitate the first global People’s Health Assembly in Savar, Bangladesh, in the year 2000. The eight groups were the International People’s Health Council, Consumer International, Health Action International, the Third World Network, the Asian Community Health Action Network, the Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights, the Dag Hammarskjold Foundation and Gonoshasthaya Kendra. All these groups consistently raised and opposed the selectivization and verticalization of Primary Health Care (PHC) that followed Alma Ata leading to what was called Selective PHC (i.e., not the original comprehensive PHC). These groups came together to organize the committee for the first People’s Health Assembly and then to form the Charter Committee that led to the People’s Health Charter, which finally led to the actual PHM. Within PHM, members engage critically and constructively in health initiatives, health policy critique, and formulation, thus advancing people’s demands. The PHM builds capacities of community activists to participate in monitoring health-related policies, the governance of health systems, and keeping comprehensive PHC as a central strategy in world debate. The PHM ensures that people’s voices become part of decision-making processes. The PHM has an evolving presence in over 80 countries worldwide, consisting of groups of individuals and/or well-established PHM circles with their own governance and information-sharing mechanisms. It additionally operates through issue-based circles across countries.
Community-Oriented Primary Health Care for Improving Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health
Amira M. Khan, Zohra S. Lassi, and Zulfiqar A. Bhutta
Nearly 80% of the world’s population lives in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and these regions bear the greatest burden of maternal, neonatal, and child mortality, with most of the deaths occurring at home. Much of global maternal and child mortality is attributable to easily preventable and treatable conditions. However, the challenge lies in reaching the most vulnerable communities, especially the rural populations, making it imperative that maternal, newborn, and child health (MNCH) interventions focus on communities in tandem with facility-based strategies. There is widespread consensus that delivering effective primary health care (PHC) interventions through the continuum of care, starting from pregnancy to delivery and then to the newborn, infant, and the young child, is an integral component of health strategies in high-, middle- and low-income settings. Despite gaps in research, several effective community-based PHC approaches have been proven to impact MNCH positively. Implementation of these strategies is needed at scale in LMICs and in partnership with all stakeholders including the public and private sector. Community-based PHC, operating on the principles of community engagement and community mobilization, is now more critical than ever. Further robust studies are needed to evaluate certain strategies of community-based PHC and their impact on maternal and child health outcomes, such as the use of mobile technology and social franchises. Recognition of community health workers (CHWs) as a formal cadre and the integration of community-based health services within PHC are vital in strengthening efforts to impact maternal, neonatal, and child health outcomes positively. However, despite the importance of community-based PHC for MNCH in LMICs, the existence of a strong health system and skilled workforce is central to achieving positive health outcomes in these regions.
Public Health and the UN Sustainable Development Goals
Claire E. Brolan
The COVID-19 crisis—the most catastrophic international public health emergency since the Spanish influenza 100 years ago—provides impetus to review the significance of public and global health in the context of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) achievement. When countries unanimously adopted the 17 SDGs in September 2015, stakeholders had mixed views on global health goal SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-Being). Concern arose over the feasibility of achieving SDG 3 by 2030 when countries pursued its nine targets and four means of implementation with sixteen other ambitious global goals. Nonetheless, health surely cuts across the SDG framework: for instance, the underlying health determinants are expressed in many goals as is urban and planetary health. Although health (and its different constructions) is central to overall SDG achievement, SDG success depends on a paradigm shift toward whole-of-government policy and planning. Indeed, the 2030 Agenda echoes calls for a Health in All Policies (HiAP) approach to public health programming. This depends on another paradigm shift in public health tertiary education, practitioner training, and policy skills development within and beyond ministries of health. Added to this are the underlying problematics around SDG health financing, human resources for health, health target and indicator localization for equitable country responses that leave no one behind, strengthening civil registration and vital statistics systems for inclusive and accountable health implementation, and the sidelining of human rights from SDG metrics. While COVID-19 has derailed SDG efforts, it could also be the ultimate game changer for intergenerational human and environmental health transformation. Yet strong global health governance and rights-based approaches remain key.
Global Health Diplomacy: A Theoretical and Analytical Review
The end of the Cold War brought far-reaching world changes in many areas, including the health field. A number of “new” terms emerged (such as global health, global governance, and global health governance or global governance for health), among them global health diplomacy (or health diplomacy). There is no single, consensual definition of this term, and still less are there theoretical and analytical frameworks or empirical data to help understand its meaning and practice more clearly. Global health diplomacy is a sociopolitical practice involving the global health policy community, which promotes the interrelationship between health and foreign policy both at the national level, through cooperation projects or international actions and, in international arenas, by acting in global political space in the widest range of spheres, whether health-sector-related or otherwise.
The Health Economic-Industrial Complex (HEIC) and a New Public Health Perspective
José Gomes Temporão and Carlos Augusto Grabois Gadelha
The health economic-industrial complex concept was developed in Brazil in the early 2000s, integrating a structuralist view of the political economy with a public health vision. This perspective advances, in relation to sectoral approaches in health industries and services, toward a systemic approach to the productive environment, focusing on the dimensions of innovation and universal access to health. Health production is seen in an interdependent way, recognizing that the different industrial and service sectors have strong articulations that need to be integrated. The shift toward a universal care model that focuses on human and social needs requires a productive knowledge base that favors promotion, prevention, and local and permanent healthcare, requiring new productive patterns of goods and services and innovation. Therefore, these dimensions are not conceptually apart from each other, considering an analytical and political point of view. The production, care, and sustainability of universal health systems are understood in an integrated and systemic way. Within this vision, a cognitive leap is presented in relation to the traditional health economics, linked to the allocation of scarce resources, to a vision of health political economy that favors the development, expansion, and transformation of the health system and its economic and industrial base. Health is conceived as a moral right of citizenship and a vital space for the development of countries (and for global health), generating social inclusion, equity, innovation, and a possibility for the cooperation between countries and peoples. The Brazilian experience is an exemplary case of association between the development of theoretical conception and its implementation in the national health policy that led to the link between economic development policies and social policies. It was possible to advance both conceptually in terms of a vision of health and social well-being and in contributing to a new paradigm of public policies. This perspective allowed the guidance of guide industrial development and services toward the human needs and universal health systems, considering the challenges brought by the context of an ongoing fourth technological revolution.
Inequalities and Inequities in the Health of People With Intellectual Disabilities
Children and adults with intellectual disabilities have poorer health and are more likely to die sooner than their non–intellectually disabled peers. There is growing evidence that some of these inequalities in health are avoidable, unjust, and unfair, given that they are driven by the higher rates of exposure of people with intellectual disabilities to well-established social determinants of poor health. People with intellectual disabilities are more likely than their peers to: live in poverty, not be employed (or if employed to work under precarious conditions), be exposed to discrimination and violence, face significant barriers in accessing effective health care, and be less resilient when exposed to adversities. In other words, they are examples of health inequities that arise from “the societal conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age, referred to as social determinants of health. These include early years’ experiences, education, economic status, employment and decent work, housing and environment, and effective systems of preventing and treating ill health” (World Health Organization). Future research needs to address three key issues. First, most of the existing evidence is based on the experiences of people with intellectual disabilities in the world’s high-income countries. In contrast, the vast majority of the world’s population live in middle- and low-income countries. The limited evidence available suggests that children with intellectual disabilities growing up in middle- and low-income countries are much more likely than their peers to be growing up in poverty and to be exposed to specific social determinants of poorer health associated with poverty such as undernutrition, poor sanitation, low levels of parental stimulation, violent parental discipline, and hazardous forms of child labor. Second, little research has focused on health inequalities and inequities among two important groups of people with intellectual disabilities: people with intellectual disabilities from minority ethnic communities and people with mild intellectual disabilities. Third, very little research has attempted to test the proposition that people with intellectual disabilities may be more or less resilient than their peers when exposed to social determinants of health. While much remains to be learned about the inequalities and inequities faced by people with intellectual disabilities, the existing knowledge is sufficient to guide and drive changes in policy and practice that could reduce the health inequities faced by people with intellectual disabilities. These include: improving the visibility of people with intellectual disabilities in local, national, and international health surveillance systems; making “reasonable accommodations” to the operation of health care systems (e.g., introducing annual health checks into primary care services, making “easy read” materials available, employing intellectual disabilities liaison nurses in acute hospitals) to ensure that people with intellectual disabilities are not exposed to systemic discrimination; and ensuring that people with intellectual disabilities (along with all other people with disabilities) are included in and benefit equally from local and national strategies to reduce population levels of exposure to well-established social determinants of poor health.
Biological and Social Aspects of Human Infertility: A Global Perspective
Marie Thoma, Jasmine Fledderjohann, Carie Cox, and Rudolph Kantum Adageba
Infertility remains a neglected area in sexual and reproductive health, yet its consequences are staggering. Infertility is estimated to impact about 10–25% (estimates range from 48 to 180 million) of couples of reproductive age worldwide. It is associated with adverse physical and mental health outcomes, financial distress, severe social stigma, increased risk of domestic abuse, and marital instability. Although men and women are equally likely to be infertile, women often bear the societal burden of infertility, particularly in societies where a woman’s identity and social value are closely tied to her ability to bear children. Despite these consequences, disparities in access to infertility treatment between low- and high-income populations persist given the high cost and limited geographic availability of diagnostic services and assisted reproductive technologies. In addition, a considerable proportion of infertility is a result of preventable factors, such as smoking, sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy-related infection or unsafe abortion, and environmental contaminants. Accordingly, programs that address the equitable prevention and treatment of infertility are not only in keeping with a reproductive rights perspective but can also improve public health. However, progress on infertility as a global concern in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights is stymied by challenges in understanding the global epidemiology of infertility, including its causes and determinants, barriers to accessing quality fertility care, and a lack of political will and attention to this issue. The tracking and measurement of infertility are highly complex, resulting in considerable ambiguity about its prevalence and stratification in reproduction globally. A renewed global focus on infertility epidemiology, risk factors, and access to and receipt of quality of care will support individuals in trying to reach their desired number and spacing of children and improve overall health and well-being.
Urban Homelessness Policy in OECD Nations
Charley E. Willison and Amanda I. Mauri
Homelessness is a public health challenge for modern governments. Homelessness emerged as a formal policy problem for rich nations in the mid- to late 20th century as nations developed stable economies and democracies, including housing and job markets, and social welfare mechanisms to protect citizens from disenfranchisement. In early 21st-century Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations, homelessness arises most often among at-risk or vulnerable populations, such as historically marginalized groups and/or persons with constrained access to welfare state mechanisms, such as immigrants or refugees. Thus, homelessness in OECD nations is very different from informal housing or mass poverty in poor nations and/or non-democratic regimes. Homelessness affects individual and population health, requiring complex policy solutions across multiple domains of health, as well as intergovernmental coordination. Policy responses to homelessness vary across OECD nations in their approach and efficacy. There are four key factors influencing how OECD nations respond to homelessness: (a) the strength and inclusivity of the welfare state; (b) degrees of decentralization in homeless policy governance; (c) the strength, capacity, and inclusivity of the health and behavioral healthcare systems; and (d) the role of federated structures in health and welfare state policy. Overall, nations with weaker welfare states and health/behavioral healthcare systems face greater risks of homelessness. The inclusivity of these systems also shapes who may be eligible for protection or experience homelessness. Local governments, especially those in large metropolitan areas, are the frontline providers of homelessness services. Yet local governments are constrained at both ends: Policies designed, delivered, and funded at larger units of government—such as welfare state provisions—influence many of the determinants of homelessness, such as housing, and the resources available to subnational actors to combat homelessness. Local actors are also constrained by the degree of decentralization. Devolution of homelessness policy to smaller units of government or even solely to nongovernmental actors, through federated mechanisms or decentralization, may create barriers to locally tailored solutions by perpetuating disparities across jurisdictions and/or constraining authority and resources necessary to design or deliver homeless policy.
Advancements in Social Sciences Applied to Health in Latin America and the Caribbean
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.
Priming Healthcare for Health Equity Management
Ebbin D. Dotson, Kimson E. Johnson, and Jada Irving
Health equity management (HEM) is defined as an actionable framework that supports the development of an industry-defining position for healthcare organizations and senior leaders to guide their business practices for investments in and financial gains from health equity. As healthcare leaders confront the disparate racial and ethnic burdens caused by the nation’s racialized societal history, making investments that increase health equity can help eliminate health disparities. To achieve health equity, leaders must cultivate a sense of interdependence among stakeholders and community members to effectively communicate the importance of collaboration, which is a shared understanding of the necessary actions that engage stakeholders around a central purpose. Achieving health equity forces healthcare systems to consider the notion that creating an equitable environment, where the costs of health inequity and barriers to achieving community and population health are shared with stakeholders and community members, might be addressed by the modification of certain management practices. HEM encompasses an applied management model to help healthcare organizations maximize their efforts to increase health equity for vulnerable populations. It provides a stepwise approach to help frame the social, economic, and educational changes necessary for leaders to invest in health equity initiatives. The HEM involves the following actions: (a) redefining health equity, (b) identifying upstream inequalities, (c) realigning fiscal investments, and (d) leveraging community partnerships. Establishing and sustaining health equity initiatives through HEM ensures that both economic and social criteria are systematically considered, and financial investments are prioritized for sustained impact. Without addressing all four, the efforts of healthcare organizations will fall short of what it will take to effect lasting change. Redefining health equity requires incorporating upstream and downstream inequities to offer a lens to align mission, assess capacity, and leverage profitable partnerships. The systematic approach to HEM goals and principles can be integrated at various organizational levels as a tool to successfully address health inequalities and social determinants of health.
The Politics of Primary Health Care
David Sanders and Louis Reynolds
The global project to achieve Health for All through Primary Health Care (PHC) is a profoundly political one. In seeking to address both universal access to health care and the social determinants of health (SDH) it challenges power blocs which have material vested interests in technical approaches to health and development. The forces that have shaped PHC include Community Oriented Primary Care and the Health Centre Movement, the “basic health services approach,” and nongovernmental and national initiatives that exemplified comprehensive and participatory approaches to health development. The 1978 Alma-Ata Declaration codified these experiences and advocated Health for All by the year 2000 through PHC. It emphasized equitable and appropriate community and primary-level health care as well as intersectoral actions and community participation to address the social and environmental determinants of health. This would need the support of a new international economic order. The concept of “Selective Primary Health Care” emerged soon after Alma-Ata, privileging a limited set of technical interventions directed at selected groups, notably young children. This was soon operationalized as UNICEF’s Child Survival Revolution. The visionary and comprehensive policy of PHC was further eroded by the 1970s debt crisis and subsequent economic policies including structural adjustment and accelerated neoliberal globalization that deregulated markets and financial flows and reduced state expenditure on public services. This translated, in many countries, as “health sector reform” with a dominant focus on cost efficiency to the detriment of broad developmental approaches to health. More recently this selective approach has been aggravated by the financing of global health through public-private partnerships that fund specific interventions for selected diseases. They have also spawned many “service delivery” NGOs whose activities have often reinforced a biomedical emphasis, supported by large philanthropic funding such as that of the Gates Foundation. Educational institutions have largely failed to transform their curricula to incorporate the philosophy and application of PHC to inform the practice of students and graduates, perpetuating weakness in its implementation. Revitalizing PHC requires at least three key steps: improved equity in access to services, a strong focus on intersectoral action (ISA) to address SDH and prioritization of community-based approaches. The third sustainable development goal (SDGs) focuses on health, with universal health coverage (UHC) at its center. While UHC has the potential to enhance equitable access to comprehensive health care with financial protection, realizing this will require public financing based on social solidarity. Groups with vested interests such as private insurance schemes and corporate service providers have already organized against this approach in some countries. The SDGs also provide an opportunity to enhance ISA, since they include social and environmental goals that could also support the scaling up of Community Health Worker programs and enhanced community participation. However, SDG-8, which proposes high economic growth based substantially on an extractivist model, contradicts the goals for environmental sustainability. Human-induced environmental degradation, climate change, and global warming have emerged as a major threat to health. As presciently observed at Alma-Ata, the success of PHC, and Health for All requires the establishment of a new, ecologically sustainable, economic order.
Street Science: Community Knowledge for Global Health Equity
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.
Workers’ Health in Latin America and the Caribbean
In different countries and regions of the world—particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean—the term “workers’ health” may have different meanings. From a more traditional perspective, defined on economic and demographic bases, this term introduces a delimitation characterized by economically active people, usually over 10 years of age, of both sexes, and who are working, have worked at some point in their life, or are in search of work. This condition usually ceases in case of retirement or disability. Such a criterion, as can be imagined, is extremely imprecise, particularly in regions such as the ones analyzed here, since it includes great variability of situations, including work considered informal; the work of children and adolescents (prohibited or restricted in accordance with international labor standards); clandestine and illegal work; domestic work (sometimes not formally recognized); and slave and forced labor. It is not clear, either, when work activity actually ceases, especially when there are no social protection systems for elderly and disabled people. But even if this definition is adopted, it is already possible to foresee the complexity of the theme, both in the conceptual perspective and in the scope of health programs, as well as in the health and illness problems of this population. However, in some countries, the term “workers’ health” (or “worker’s health”) goes beyond the economic or demographic delimitation, and includes a paradigm shift about the role of workers in the struggle for their health. This perspective, political and ideological, originates in the concepts and experience of the “Italian Labor Model”; brings in elements of the Marxist discourses and Liberation Theology; takes advantage of and improves the perspective of “Social Epidemiology” or “Social Medicine”; and, in our continent, can be considered as an unfolding of “Latin American Social Epidemiology.” This understanding of workers’ health also depends on social movements—such as unions and other forms of organizing workers—as well as on political leaders committed to the struggle of workers against precarious work, unemployment and the destruction of already established social rights, especially in the context of neoliberalism. Therefore, workers’ health is a polysemic and complex concept, and its discussion is a living, dynamic, and extremely rich agenda.
Occupational Health Challenges for Immigrant Workers
Emily Q. Ahonen
Occupational health and safety concerns classically encompass conditions and hazards in workplaces which, with sufficient exposure, can lead to injury, distress, illness, or death. The ways in which work is organized and the arrangements under which people are employed have also been linked to worker health. Migrants are people who cross borders away from their usual place of residence, and about one in seven people worldwide is a migrant. Terms like “immigrant” and “emigrant” refer to the direction of that movement relative to the stance of the speaker. Any person who might be classified as a migrant and who works or seeks to work is an immigrant worker and may face challenges to safety, health, and well-being related to the work he or she does. The economic, legal, and social circumstances of migrant workers can place them into employment and working conditions that endanger their safety, health, or well-being. While action in support of migrant worker health must be based on systematic understanding of these individuals’ needs, full understanding the possible dangers to migrant worker health is limited by conceptual and practical challenges to public health surveillance and research about migrant workers. Furthermore, intervention in support of migrant worker health must balance tensions between high-risk and population-based approaches and need to address the broader, structural circumstances that pattern the health-related experiences of migrant workers. Considering the relationships between work and health that include but go beyond workplace hazards and occupational injury, and engaging with the ways in which structural influences act on health through work, are complex endeavors. Without more critically engaging with these issues, however, there is a risk of undermining the effectiveness of efforts to improve the lot of migrant workers by “othering” the workers or by failing to focus on what is causing the occupational safety and health concern in the first place—the characteristics of the work people do. Action in support of migrant workers should therefore aim to ameliorate structural factors that place migrants into disadvantageous conditions while working to improve conditions for all workers.
Community Empowerment and Health Equity
Empowerment features prominently in public health and health promotion policy and practice aimed at improving the social determinants of health that impact communities and groups that are experiencing disadvantage and discrimination. This raises two important questions. How should empowerment be understood from the perspective of health and health equity and how can public health practitioners support empowerment for greater health equity? Many contemporary definitions link empowerment to improvements in individual self-care and/or the adoption of “healthier” lifestyles. In contrast, from a health equity perspective community empowerment is understood as sociopolitical processes that engage with power dynamics and result in people bearing the brunt of social injustice exercising greater collective control over decisions and actions that impact their lives and health. There is growing evidence that increased collective control at the population level is associated with improved social determinants of health and population health outcomes. But alongside this, there is also evidence that many contemporary community interventions are not “empowering” for the people targeted and may actually be having negative impacts. To achieve more positive outcomes, existing frameworks need to be used to recenter power in the design, implementation, and evaluation of local community initiatives in the health field. In addition, health professionals and agencies must act to remove barriers to the empowerment of disadvantaged communities and groups. They can do this by taking experiential knowledge more seriously, by challenging processes that stigmatize disadvantaged groups, and by developing sustainable spaces for the authentic participation of lay communities of interest and place in decisions that have an impact on their lives.
Monitoring Migrants’ Health Risk Factors for Noncommunicable Diseases
Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) have become the first cause of morbidity and mortality around the world. These have been targeted by most governments because they are associated with well-known risk factors and modifiable behaviors. Migrants present, as any population subgroup, peculiarities with regard to NCDs and, more relevantly, need specific information on associated risk factors to appropriately target policies and interventions. The country of origin, assimilation process, and many other migrant health aspects well studied in the literature can be related to migrants’ health risk factors. In most countries, existing sources of information are not sufficient or should be revised, and new sources of data should be found. Existing survey systems can meet organizational difficulties in changing their questionnaires; moreover, the number of changes in the adopted questionnaire should be limited for the sake of brevity to avoid excessive burden on respondents. Nevertheless, a limited number of additional variables can offer a lot of information on migrant health. Migrant status, country of origin, time of arrival should be included in any survey concerned about migrant health. These, along with information on other Social Determinants of Health and access to health services, can offer fundamental information to better understand migrants’ health and its evolution as they live in their host countries. Migrants are often characterized by a better health status, in comparison with the native population, which typically is lost over the years. Public health and health promotion could have a relevant role in modifying, for the better, this evolution, but this action must be supported by timely and reliable information.