UN health agency launches new panel to fight social causes behind illhealth

The United Nations health agency today launched a new global Commission to tackle the social “causes behind the causes of” ill-health, such as poverty, social exclusion, inappropriate housing, shortcomings in safeguarding early childhood development, unsafe employment conditions and lack of quality health systems. “Social standing plays a big part in whether people will live to be 40 or 80, whether they will be treated for a curable disease, and whether their children survive their fifth birthday,” World Health Organization Director-General Lee Jong-wook at the official launch in Santiago, Chile, with Chilean President Ricardo Lagos Escobar. “People should not die young because they are poor. This commission will assist countries, no matter how rich or poor, to implement strategies that will help people who are poor and marginalized live longer, healthier lives. This effectively places the needs of the disadvantaged first on the health agenda in the 21st century,” he added. The 17-member Commission on Social Determinants of Health includes leading global experts on health, education, housing and economics. Commissioners will work to recommend the best ways to address health’s social determinants and safeguard the health of poor and marginalized populations, and to break the “poverty equals ill-health” cycle. The core of the Commission’s work will be to identify, evaluate, adapt and distribute effective strategies to address social determinants, with the aim of supporting governments to scale-up action. It will operate for three years. “A great share of health problems is attributable to social conditions, and this is why the poor carry the greatest burden of ill-health,” Commission Chair Michael Marmot, Director of the International Centre for Health and Society at University College London, said. “On a global scale, we must ensure that health policies move beyond exclusively disease-focused solutions and include the social environment. “We will arm policymakers with the best evidence to ensure that poverty does not sentence a person to a shorter, unhealthy life,” he added. Social determinants are a significant reason behind the world’s vast difference in average life expectancy, ranging from 34 years in Sierra Leone, the lowest in the world, to 81.9 in Japan, the highest. Social determinants also account for the majority of health inequalities within countries. In Indonesia, under-five mortality is nearly four times higher in the poorest fifth of the population than in the richest fifth. In England and Wales, the latest data shows a 7.4-year gap in life expectancy between men in professional occupations and men in unskilled manual occupations.

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