Public policy should address the social factors behind ill health

National and global public policy needs to change to take into account the social factors behind ill health and reduce the health inequalities seen within and between countries, states an article in this week's issue of THE LANCET.

Under-5 mortality varies from 316 per 1000 live births in Sierra Leone to 3 per 1000 livebirths in Iceland and 5 per 1000 in Japan. Differences in adult mortality among countries are large and growing. The probability of a man dying between age 15 and 60 years is 8.3% in Sweden, 82.1% in Zimbabwe, and 90.2% in Lesotho. Health inequalities also exist within countries there is a 20-year gap in life expectancy between Australian Aborigines and Torres Strait Islander people than in other Australians.

Michael Marmot (University College London, UK) writes that health status should be a concern to all policy makers, not just those within the health sector. Initiatives that focus on addressing poverty and controlling infectious diseases must not ignore the social determinants. The circumstance in which people live and work are as important.

As a response to this challenge WHO is launching an independent Commission on Social Determinants of Health, which will review evidence, raise debate and recommend policies to improve health on a national and global level. The Commission will be chaired by Professor Marmot and includes global experts on health, education, housing and economics.

Professor Marmot concludes: "Inequalities in health between and within countries are avoidable. There is no necessary biological reason why life expectancy should be 48 years longer in Japan than in Sierra Leone or 20 years shorter in Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples than in other Australians. Reducing these social inequalities in health, and thus meeting human needs, is an issue of social justice."

In an accompanying commentary, which names all the members of the new Commission, Lee Jong-wook (Director-G

Contact: Joe Santangelo

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