Healthcare reform process and policy measures to reduce socio-economic inequalities should be implemented in tandem for optimal economic progress of a nation.

Important research studies indicate that health of an individual is as much an integral function of the related socio-economic factors as it is influenced by the person’s life style and genomic configurations.It has now been well established that socio-economic disparities including the educational status lead to huge disparity in the space of healthcare.Healthcare preventive measures with focus just on disease related factors like, hygiene, sanitation, alcohol abuse, un-protected sex, smoking will not be able to achieve the desired outcome, unless the underlying socio-economic issues like, poverty, hunger, education, justice, values, parental care are not properly addressed.

It has been observed that reduction of social inequalities ultimately helps to effectively resolve many important healthcare issues. Otherwise, the minority population with adequate access to knowledge, social and monetary power will always have necessary resources available to address their concern towards healthcare, appropriately.

Regular flow of newer and path breaking medicines to cure and effectively treat many diseases, have not been able to eliminate either trivial or dreaded diseases, alike. Otherwise, despite having effective curative therapy for malaria, typhoid, cholera, diarrhoea/dysentery and venereal diseases, why will people still suffer from such illnesses? Similarly, despite having adequate preventive therapy, like vaccines for diphtheria, tuberculosis, polio, hepatitis and measles, our children still suffer from such diseases. All these continue to happen mainly because of socio-economic considerations.

Following are some research studies, which I am using just as examples to vindicate the point:

• HIV/AIDs initially struck people across the socio-economic divide. However, people from higher socio-economic strata responded more positively to the disease awareness campaign and at the same time more effective and expensive drugs started becoming available to treat the disease, which everybody suffering from the ailment cannot afford. As a result, HIV/AIDS are now more prevalent within the lower socio-economic strata of the society.

• Not so long ago, people across the socio-economic status used to consume tobacco in many form. However, when tobacco smoking and chewing were medically established as causative factors for lung and oral cancers, those coming predominantly from higher/middle echelon of the society started giving up smoking and chewing of tobacco, as they accepted the medical rationale with their power of knowledge. Unfortunately the same has not happened with the people of relatively lower socio-economic status. As a consequence of which, ‘Bidi’ smoking, ‘Gutka’/tobacco chewing have not come down significantly within people belonging to such class, leading to more number of them falling victim of lung and oral cancer.

Thus, in future, to meet the unmet needs when more and more sophisticated and high cost disease treatment options will be available, it will be those people with higher socio-economic background who will be benefitted more with their education, knowledge, social and monetary power. This widening socio-economic inequality will consequently increase the disparity in the healthcare scenario of the country.

Phelan and Link in their research study on this issue has, therefore, remarked:

“Breakthroughs in medical science can do a lot to improve public health, but history has shown that, more often than not, information about and access to important new interventions are enjoyed primarily by people at the upper end of the socioeconomic ladder. As a result, the wealthy and powerful get healthier, and the gap widens between them and people who are poor and less powerful.”

Conclusion:

Though healthcare reform measures are essential for the progress of any nation, without time bound simultaneous efforts to reduce the socio-economic inequalities, it will not be easy for any nation to achieve the desirable outcome.

By Tapan Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

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