Health and Healthcare Systems

Why global health equity matters for all and what organizations can do to advance it

A doctor giving a vaccine to a patient. Caption: The pursuit of health equity is not just a moral obligation but also a strategic imperative.

The pursuit of health equity is not just a moral obligation but also a strategic imperative. Image: Unsplash/CDC

Burgess Harrison
Executive Director, National Minority Health Association
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Health and Healthcare

This article is part of: Centre for Health and Healthcare
  • The imperative for global health equity has never been more acute.
  • Diseases know no boundaries, and our efforts to combat them must transcend borders, cultures and socio-economic divides.
  • By championing health equity, we uplift the most vulnerable and marginalized and strengthen our global community against future health-related challenges.

In an era where the global expenditure on healthcare eclipses $8 trillion annually, a stark paradox emerges.

The World Health Organization (WHO) underscores a monumental investment in health, yet a growing wave of indifference threatens to undermine the fabric of our interconnected health ecosystem. As nations navigate the turbulence of polarization and isolationism, the imperative for global health equity has never been more acute. Here, I dive into the essence of health equity, its universal importance and the actionable steps organizations can undertake to champion this cause.

Global health equity: a collective mission

The COVID-19 pandemic served as a harrowing reminder of our shared vulnerability. It demonstrated unequivocally that the health of the individual is inextricably linked to the global health network. Diseases know no boundaries, and as such, our efforts to combat them must also transcend borders, cultures and socio-economic divides. The pandemic highlighted that indifference towards the health and well-being of communities, both domestically and internationally, can have cascading effects, underscoring the essence of health equity.

The rising tide of indifference

In the United States, resistance to initiatives aimed at fostering health equity is on the rise. Certain states have been at the forefront of opposing affirmative action, diversity, equity, inclusion (DE&I) and health equity programmes. This growing resistance is a microcosm of a larger global trend of retracting into silos, which poses a significant threat to the pursuit of global health equity.

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Championing health equity in challenging environments

Despite these challenges, there is a path forward. Organizations and leaders have a pivotal role in advocating for and implementing strategies promoting health equity. By embracing innovative solutions and harnessing diverse voices, businesses can contribute significantly to this global endeavour.

The pursuit of health equity is not just a moral obligation. It is also a strategic imperative that benefits both the global population and the business community.

The role of businesses in promoting health equity

Businesses wield considerable influence and resources, which can be mobilized to champion the cause of health equity. They can make a substantial impact through corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives, public-private partnerships and investments in health technology. And by prioritizing the health and well-being of all stakeholders, businesses contribute to a more equitable world and enhance their resilience and sustainability.

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Introducing health — it's about you too

To galvanize action and foster a culture of health equity, we have created the monthly feature, Health — it's about you, too. This initiative will explore various aspects of global health, sharing stories that highlight our interconnectedness and the importance of collective well-being.

Utilizing the acronym H.E.A.L.T.H— Hope, Education, Advocacy, Leadership, Technology, Humanity: it will highlight the role of hope and humanity in health, advocate for education and leadership in health initiatives and leverage technology for better health outcomes. We will delve into the critical dimensions of health equity without divisive language, inspiring individuals, communities and organizations to take meaningful action.

Each month, the feature will spotlight a different theme, providing insights, case studies and actionable steps for engagement. Through the universal language of art and storytelling, we aim to communicate the urgency of health equity in an engaging and comprehensive manner.

Public, private partnerships and nonprofit collaborative action is being taken as exemplified by:

Health is for EveryBODY™: from the National Minority Health Association (NMHA) and Sage Growth Partners (SGP) and over 30 organizations highlighting the fact that globally, when it comes to health, we are all in it together with two days of focus: January 4th was One for All day, and April 1st is All for One day.

The HEART Framework: Rhia Ventures’ Health Equity Assessment and Rating Tool (HEART Framework), adapted from the Racial Equity Assessment Lab (REAL) Framework, was developed as a standardized approach to identifying where organizations (e.g., investors, nonprofits, startup companies, etc.) are positioned on their journey towards advancing health equity.

The World Economic Forum’s Zero Health Gap Pledge: All organizations have a role in advancing health equity and eliminating disparities in health and wellbeing outcomes between and within countries. The Zero Health Gaps Pledge is a commitment from CEOs across industries and regions for their organizations to play their part by embedding health equity in core strategies, operations, and investments.

Equity for All: Lupus: An NMHA health awareness campaign to address issues faced by people living with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). This effort is supported by the Global Healthy Living Foundation, HealthFirst, Lupus Research Alliance, Biogen and UCB.

CEO Action for Racial Equity: This fellowship is a first-of-its-kind, business-led initiative working to advance racial equity through public policy. It's a Path to Progress, bringing business, communities and policy together to drive change. Through corporate and community engagement, the fellowship is fighting societal systemic racism by advancing racial equity through public policy at the federal, state and local levels. Our focus is to positively impact the 47+ million Black Americans and improve societal well-being.

American Kidney Fund Health Equity Coalition: In the US, Black and Hispanic people fare worse with kidney disease than White people. Black and Hispanic people are more likely to develop kidney failure and are less likely to receive a kidney transplant. It doesn't have to be this way. The American Kidney Fund programmes put solutions into practice that help break down common barriers — so that everyone can equally prevent and get treatment for kidney disease.

American Epilepsy Society Disrupting Disparities Advisory Committee: This project aims to improve outcomes for underserved people with epilepsy by improving the epilepsy clinical knowledge of the non-specialist epilepsy care workforce and deepening understanding of social determinants of health and commitment to epilepsy self-management by the epilepsy specialist workforce.

HLTH Foundation Techquity: The HLTH Foundation launched Techquity for Health a coalition to help integrate health equity standards into healthcare technology and data practices.

Digital Medicine Society: (DiMe) brings a team together in a health equity coalition.

These are a few examples of the collaborative efforts being made to address health equity.

A call to action

The journey towards global health equity is a collective endeavour that requires the concerted effort of individuals, communities and organizations worldwide. We can build a healthier, more equitable world for future generations by fostering a culture of empathy, access and trust. It's not just about the health of the individual but about the well-being of humanity at large. Let us embrace our shared responsibility and act with the urgency and solidarity that global health equity demands.

The domino effect of global health equity can be profound. One small action or effort can often create the energy for change. It reminds us that our actions or inactions have far-reaching consequences. By championing health equity, we not only uplift the most vulnerable and marginalized among us but also strengthen our global community against future health-related challenges. Any business, government or organization can begin to work together to ensure that health equity is not just an ideal but a reality for all. As evidenced by the collaborative efforts underway and in the immortal words of Nike®, when it comes to health equity — Just do it.

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