NZMA Calls For Action To Improve Health Equity

The NZMA is taking a leadership role and bringing together representatives from across health, the government sector and wider community to discuss the way forward to reduce New Zealand’s unacceptable health inequities.

The symposium ‘Health equity and the social determinants of health,’ being held at the Nordmeyer Centre, Otago University (Wellington) on Wednesday 13 July, will seek to respond to the huge challenge of how we can address the negative impact of social factors that contribute to poor health outcomes and widening health inequities, particularly among our most vulnerable groups.

“It’s a given that social factors such as poor quality, damp housing, inadequate nutrition, and being unemployed will more likely lead to illness and affect both quality of life and mortality,” says NZMA Chair Dr Paul Ockelford.

“The prevalence of respiratory illnesses, rheumatic fever and skin infections reveal stark health inequities among some groups in our communities.”

Dr Ockelford says that doctors have a responsibility to advocate not only for individual patients but also for population health outcomes. The long standing ethic of ‘first do no harm’ extends to speaking out against policies and practices that do harm, such child poverty, in which New Zealand fares very poorly when compared to other OECD countries.

“We acknowledge that some progress has been made to reduce health inequities with a range of policies in recent decades, but a more rapid, comprehensive whole of government approach is needed. We need greater collaboration and coordination between government agencies to focus on the causes of ill health and inequities.”

“Unless we have a coordinated approach to addressing housing, employment, educational and other disparities and end the marginalisation of some groups in our society, all our efforts in providing quality health care will be undermined.”

The symposium will be opened by Minister of Health Tony Ryall. The keynote speaker is Professor Sir Michael Marmot, a leading researcher and advocate on health inequities and the former Chair of the WHO Commission’s Social Determinants of Health, which published a landmark report in 2008 on the causes of health inequities and outlined policy measures to reduce inequities.

“There has been extensive research undertaken in New Zealand and overseas, such as the ground breaking research of Professor Marmot, so we need to consider the evidence and knowledge that is available on the most effective strategies,” says Dr Ockelford.

The NZMA, in association with the University of Otago, Wellington and the National Heart Foundation, has published an article on inequities in health in the latest New Zealand Medical Journal which lists the top 10 most important actions needed to reduce health inequities in New Zealand.

These actions include a fair and equitable social welfare system, more investment in early childhood to ensure the best start in life and enhancing Maori, Pacific and Asian policies and programmes that are culturally appropriate.

Dr Ockelford said it is hoped that the symposium and other activities planned around Professor Marmot’s visit will foster constructive dialogue and a vision for greater health equity in the future.

“We encourage health professionals and the public to join in the discussion to move forward on what actions are needed to improve the health of all New Zealanders and reduce health inequities.”