Who: 53 European countries stagnant on achieving health equity

Two retired old people are talking. World bank photo /Celine Ferre
Two retired old people are talking.
September 10, 2019
Health and hygiene

The world health organization today released its first state of health equity report. The report shows that despite attempts by governments in 53 countries of the organization's European region to address health inequities, health inequities in many countries have remained unchanged or even worsened.
The who health equity report is the first to reflect the impact of European policies to address this problem over the past 10 to 15 years. The report found that many of the key factors leading to health inequities were not adequately addressed. For example, while 29 per cent of health inequity stems from precarious living conditions, 53 per cent of countries in the region have not invested in housing and community services in the past 15 years.

Reducing inequality by 50 percent would bring economic benefits to the country, ranging from 0.3 percent to 4.3 percent of gross domestic product, the report said.

How big is the health gap in Europe?

The survey revealed serious differences in the health status of the European population:

• while average life expectancy in the region rose to 82.0 years for women and 76.2 years for men in 2016, there are still serious health inequalities across social groups: seven years off average for women in the most vulnerable groups and up to 15 years for men.

• twice as many women and men in the least affluent 20 percent of the population reported limiting their daily activities because of illness, compared with the richest 20 percent.

• in the vast majority of countries for which data are available, women with the least years of education have a higher incidence of poverty or poor health than women with the most years of education, and the same is true for men.

• where you live affects both length and quality of life: in nearly 75% of the countries surveyed, the difference in life expectancy between those living in the most privileged and those living in the least developed areas has changed little or worsened over more than a decade.

• babies born in the poorest areas are 4 percent more likely to die in their first year than those born in wealthier areas.

• as people age, the health gap between socioeconomic groups widens: 6 percent more girls and 5 percent more boys from the least affluent families are in poor health than those from the richest families. By working age, the poorest women were 19% more likely to be in poor health than the richest women and 17% more likely to be men. Among those 65 and older, the least affluent women were 22 percent more likely to be in poor health and men 21 percent more likely to be in poor health than the wealthiest families.

• the cumulative poor health of people entering old age with few social resources indicates that they are more likely to fall into poverty, risk social exclusion, lose the ability to live independently, and rapidly deteriorate in health.

Factors leading to health inequities in Europe

The researchers identified five key factors contributing to health inequities in the European region and determined how much each factor contributed to the overall burden of inequities:

• income security and social security: 35%

• living conditions: 29%

• social and human capital: 19%

• access to health care and its quality: 10%

• employment and working conditions: 7%

Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, who regional director for Europe, said: "for the first time, health equity status reports provide governments with the data and tools they need to address health inequities and can produce significant results in a relatively short period of time, even within a four-year term of office of a national government. "