New Health Dialogue - logo

REFORM: Your Health, WHO Cares?

Your physical, cultural, and political environment has an unquestionable impact on your health and the course of your life. This is the clear and resounding conclusion from the World Health Organization's (WHO) Commission on Social Determinants of Health, which has released its final report, "Closing the gap in a generation: Health equity through action on the social determinants of health."

Not only does WHO make it clear that determinants of health vary from country to country, but there are vast inequalities within countries too.

"The development of a society, rich or poor, can be judged by the equality of its population's health, how fairly health is distributed across the social spectrum, and the degree of protection provided from disadvantages as a result of ill-health."





The commission lays out three recommendations for tackling this global phenomenon:

  • Improve Daily Living Conditions
  • Tackle the Inequitable Distribution of Power, Money, and Resources
  • Measure and Understand the Problem and Assess the Impact

While all of these measures are important, it's the first one which is most up our alley. For under "Improve Daily Living Conditions" there is an entire section on, you guessed it, Universal Health Care.

WHO recommends building health-care systems based on principles of equity, disease prevention, and health promotion —systems which provide universal coverage and financing that ensures the coverage regardless of ability to pay. The study defines universal coverage as a system which "requires that everyone within a country can access the same range of (good quality) services according to needs and preferences, regardless of income level, social status, or residency...." Almost all high income countries, WHO says, organize their health systems around this principle. The U.S. of course does not have universal coverage, and in nearly all of WHO's measures, ranks last among the wealthy countries. (Keep in mind here that universal coverage simply means covering everyone. It doesn't say anything about a nationalized health system.)

So for those who argue that insurance is the only thing that matters, and for those on the other side who argue that insurance itself doesn't matter very much at all -- we'll point you at WHO. A health care system is a social determinant of health — WHO says it and so do we.