Every year on the 7th of April we celebrate the World Health Day. Since 1950 this celebration has aimed to create awareness of a specific health theme to highlight a priority area of concern for the World Health Organization (WHO), the agency of the United Nations responsible for international public health.
Over the past 70 years this day brought to light important health issues such as mental health, maternal and child care, and climate change. The celebration is marked by activities which extend beyond the day itself and serves as an opportunity to focus worldwide attention on these important aspects of global health. Last year the day was dedicated to nurses and midwives, who help us every day to live in a happier and healthier world, in particular during the pandemic.
For this year, the World Health Organization chose the following topic: building a fairer and healthier world. This theme has been selected because Western Pacific countries have experienced rapid economic growth, migration and urbanization in recent years. This improved the lives of many, but left others behind. The COVID-19 pandemic has undermined recent health advances, pushed more people into poverty and food insecurity, and amplified gender, social and health inequalities.
Around the world, some groups struggle to make ends meet with low daily income, have poorer housing and education conditions, fewer job opportunities, experience greater gender inequality, and often lack access to safe environments, clean water and air, food safety and health services. This leads to unnecessary suffering, avoidable disease and premature death, causing considerable damage to our societies and economies.
During this World Health Day, we have to call for action to eliminate health inequalities and initiate a one-year global campaign to raise awareness of this issue and build a fairer and healthier world. The campaign underlines the WHO constitutional principle that "the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being regardless of race, religion, political belief, economic or social status". The world is still unequal. The places where we live and work may make it harder for some to reach their full health potential, while others thrive. Health inequalities are not only unfair, they also threaten the progress made to date and widen rather than narrow the equity gap.
Health inequalities can be prevented with strategies that highlight the concept of health equity, especially for the most vulnerable and marginalized groups. COVID-19 has hit all countries hard, but its impact has been harder on those communities that were already vulnerable, who are more exposed to the disease, less likely to have access to quality health services, and more likely to experience negative consequences as a result of the measures implemented to contain the pandemic.
That’s why leaders have to ensure that communities are at the forefront in decision-making processes as we move forward to a new future, and that everyone has living and working conditions that are conducive to good health. At the same time, we need leaders to:
- Work with affected communities and individuals to find solutions to serious social inequalities, within and outside the health sector. A coordinated approach between governments and communities is required to achieve this goal.
- Ensure timely collection of health data, disaggregated by sex, age, income, education, migratory status, disability, geographical location and other characteristics relevant to the national context. In this way it will be possible to assess the inequalities between the subgroups and take targeted actions.
- Adopt a whole-of-government approach to tackling the root causes of inequities and increase investment in primary health care. This is key to meeting today’s challenges of ensuring Health for All and to building the resilience of tomorrow.
- Act beyond national borders, such as ensuring a fair supply of COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments, and strengthening national and international mechanisms to build community trust and ensure access for all globally.
This year the World Health Organization invites leaders to monitor health inequities, and to ensure that all people are able to access quality health services depending on their needs and values within their communities, but is this the only way to ensure that everyone, everywhere, can realize the right to good health?