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What is health equity – and why does it matter to business?

A woman infected with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) carries her baby at the maternity ward for mothers infected with the coronavirus, at the Maternal Perinatal Hospital 'Monica Pretelini Saenz', in Toluca, Mexico February 4, 2021. REUTERS/Luis Cortes - RC22ML93Y8ZP

The private sector has a role to play in addressing health inequity and the root causes of it. Image: REUTERS/Luis Cortes

Therese Wetterman
Project Lead, Shaping the Future of Health and Healthcare, World Economic Forum LLC
David Rabinowitz
Principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP, Deloitte
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Healthy Futures

This article is part of: Sustainable Development Impact Summit
  • We have significant work to do to achieve health equity.
  • Health inequities contribute to the global disease burden, disproportionately impact marginalized or excluded groups, and hold back economic and business growth.
  • The private sector has a role to play in driving greater health equity globally.

Health equity means we all have fair and just opportunity to fulfill our human potential in all aspects of health and well-being.

However, data shows that we are far from achieving health equity. For example:

Up to 70% of individual health outcomes are due to the non-medical drivers of health – also known as social determinants of health. Examples include ability to have a good paying job, healthy food and affordable housing.

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However, systemic factors, such as racism, bias, political power and gender discrimination, are at the root of why inequities in health exist and determine whether we have access to the conditions and resources needed to make healthy choices.

Achieving health equity requires both removing obstacles to health that adversely impact marginalized groups and elevating the strengths and assets that exist in communities. No one sector can achieve this alone. Sustained, multi-sectoral collaboration between corporations, governments, civil society and communities is critical.

Why does health equity matter?

Health inequities contribute to the global disease burden, disproportionately impact marginalized or excluded groups, and hold back economies and businesses from achieving growth. For example, with every additional year of life expectancy countries generate through health improvements, they can expect a 4% increase in GDP.

The COVID-19 pandemic has elevated health as a top agenda item for CEOs around the world. Social movements like Black Lives Matter are driving business to reflect on their own practices and what they can do to advance racial equity. A shift toward stakeholder capitalism and a more effective ESG ecosystem are creating conditions that enable the application of a health equity lens to this crucial global discussion.

It is critical that we build on this momentum to engage more private sector leaders in addressing health inequities in ways that are scalable, create shared value and improve health globally.

What can the private sector do to drive health equity?

Business leaders can work not only within their own organizations, but also generate equitable health through their offerings, within communities, and via their broader ecosystem. And because this isn’t just about health care, but also social, economic and environmental factors, a wide and broad range of businesses have unique capabilities, assets, skills, data and influence to bring to bear on these issues.

What can the private sector do to drive health equity?
What can the private sector do to drive health equity? Image: Deloitte

Some private companies have been taking steps for years to invest in health equity at multiple levels. Learning from their experiences, some of which are highlighted below, will be critical in supporting more organizations to engage in and be successful in this work.

Understand, identify and eliminate workplace practices that drive inequities

The American Heart Association’s CEO Roundtable, in collaboration with health equity experts, recently released their Driving Health Equity in the Workplace report which includes guiding principles and actionable strategies to help organizations at any stage of their health equity journey understand, identify and eliminate workplace practices that lead to inequities. This work highlights the responsibility of private sector leaders to tackle historical structures and workplace cultures to help advance health equity.

Engage in public-private partnerships to fill gaps and drive impact

Deloitte LLP, in partnership with the Government of Haryana in India, launched a new public-private partnership that helps people in rural areas understand COVID-19 prevention and treatment. The program has so far resulted in a 50% reduction in deaths in the Karnal district and demonstrated how technology can be leveraged to remedy under-investment in public health infrastructure, meet community healthcare needs and advance health equity.

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Scale and grow initiatives that promote shared value

In 2014, Novo Nordisk launched the Cities Changing Diabetes programme to address the social and cultural factors that increase rates of type 2 diabetes among people living in urban environments. The programme generates shared value across multiple stakeholders including people living with diabetes, partner cities and Novo Nordisk. This shared value -- propelled by the support of an engaged CEO -- has enabled Cities Changing Diabetes to expand to more than 30 cities globally, impacting over 150 million people.

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Where do we go from here?

Sustaining momentum and achieving global impact will require addressing a number of challenges: misaligned incentives (short-term pressure vs. long-term needs), a limited depth of global data, fragmented investments in drivers of health programs and pilots that are yet to scale. It will also require putting community voices front and center and creating a platform for collaboration across sectors and geographies. We need to support more leaders to move towards a model of shared value that will produce long-term value for both businesses and societies.

We – the World Economic Forum and Deloitte – are working together to help leaders tackle this imperative on a global scale. We have both been committed to making the economy work for more and more people and doing so through convening global leaders from the private sector, civil society, and government.

Interested in joining on this journey? Please inquire about our new Global Health Equity Network.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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Forum InstitutionalEconomic GrowthHealth and Healthcare Systems
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