COVID-19 has impacted every part of society. Notably, the pandemic has increased preexisting inequalities and devastated the most vulnerable and marginalized populations on an unprecedented level. Groups and individuals who were already struggling have been harmed not only by the spread of the disease, but also by lack of access to health care, structural inequalities, and increased risk of exposure to the disease.
Health inequality affects people every day. On World Health Day 2021, it's important to recognize these problems, examine them, and start working to foster a better society with fair access to health care for those who need it most.
Health Inequality Is Real, and We Need to Act Now
If there's one fact that the pandemic has painted across this country in blaring colors, it's that a massive heath crisis impacts every person on the planet, but it doesn't impact everyone evenly. Based on the socioeconomic conditions in which a person is born, lives, works, or raises a family, they may not have sufficient access to health care services—to say nothing of the time and the means to get help.
During the height of COVID-19, while more privileged members of society had the ability to socially distance safely at home, maintaining their careers and financial security, it was the broad swath of "essential workers" who kept the gears of society turning. Many of these people earn meager wages without hazard pay and must expose themselves to constant health risks without access to quality health care.
In particular, minority populations, people with disabilities, the elderly, and immunocompromised people have suffered greatly during these times. As the CDC reports, factors such as discrimination, barriers to access, occupation, and housing have led to disproportionately poor health outcomes among ethnic and racial minority populations.
It's important to note that COVID-19 didn't create these health inequalities. They existed before, and the pandemic simply made them worse. Also, while health inequality exists across the world, it is particularly problematic in the United States.
As the 2020 Commonwealth Fund International Health Policy Survey demonstrated, the health disparities in the U.S. are notably worse than in other wealthy nations. As a country, the U.S. lacks universal health care coverage, under-invests in primary care and social services, and does not have cost protections. This leads a stark number of lower-income people to avoid medical treatment due to legitimate fears about the costs, which results in their underlying health conditions worsening over time.
But it doesn't have to be this way.
How to Support Health Equality for All
The World Health Organization, which runs World Health Day, is calling on leaders of wealthy nations to recognize the burdens faced by people on the disadvantaged end of health inequality. In Boston, New England, and the United States as a whole, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought this inequality into sharp focus, and it would be a monumental tragedy not to act right now to ensure better health care for the people who have suffered the most through this pandemic, as well as those who will continue to face the economic struggles of health inequality after the pandemic ends.
Big change is needed, and leaders need to act, but what can we do in our everyday lives to make a difference? The most important thing is to speak up, advocate for health equality, and make sure the need for reform is heard far and wide. If you're looking for volunteering possibilities, the most necessary step toward ending the pandemic right now is the vaccination effort, and your state likely needs more volunteers (both in-person and virtual) to assist with this effort.
If you're an expert in a health-related field, you could volunteer to be a virtual presenter or facilitator for the Health Equity Initiative and help educate the public at large about the need for a more equitable health care system. You can even suggest your own topics. Regarding donations, there are numerous organizations that can put your contributions to good use, such as the National Collaborative for Health Equity and Direct Relief.
No matter which approach works best for you, now is the time to get involved and support the building of a fairer, healthier world for all.
In a society ravaged by a pandemic, health inequality has become one of the biggest issues facing us today. There has never been a better time to Join Us for Good.