Social Medicine Volume 4 Number 2: Economic Crisis, Social Determinants, Participation & more

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We have just published a new issue of Social Medicine/Medicina Social, our bilingual, online journal.  It is available in both English and Spanish.  Our 13th issue touches on several important issues in world health including the current economic crisis and the WHO Commission’s on the Social Determinants of Health.  And, of course, the stories of activists like the young US students (shown below) studying medicine at the Latin American Medical School (ELAM) in Havana.  They will be traveling in the Southwest US this summer to discuss their experiences with the American Indian community:

SSWE group shot (7 x 3)

The Economic Crisis and Public Health

Barry S Levy, Victor Sidel

The current global economic crisis seriously threatens the health of the public. Challenges include increases in malnutrition; homelessness and inadequate housing; unemployment; substance abuse, depression, and other mental health problems; mortality; child health problems; violence; environmental and occupational health problems; and social injustice and violation of human rights; as well as decreased availability, accessibility, and affordability of quality medical and dental care. Health professionals can respond by promoting surveillance and documentation of human needs, reassessing public health priorities, educating the public and policymakers about health problems worsened by the economic crisis, advocating for sound policies and programs to address these problems, and directly providing necessary programs and services.  Full Text: PDF

An Interview with Sir Michael Marmot

The Editors

In August of 2008 the WHO Commission on the Social Determinants of Health concluded its work with the publication of a report entitled: “Closing the gap in a generation: Health equity through action on the social determinants of health.” The Commission’s chair, Sir Michael Marmot, was kind enough to answer our questions about the Commission’s recommendations. This interview was conducted by email in May of this yea

Social Medicine: We congratulate the Com-mission on its excellent work in bringing attention to the social determinants of health and the Commission’s call for health equity. We appreciated the Commission’s recognition that: “Social Justice is a matter of life and death.” We were also happy that the Commission included representatives of civil society in their work. This was an important affirmation of democratic values.
When thinking about health inequalities people often use the analogue of the ladder to show how the gradient of worsening health outcomes affects all people in society except (presumably) those at the very top. Thinking about the ladder leads us to pose the following question: Is making the ladder shorter (i.e. reducing inequalities) the only approach to inequalities or is it possible to imagine making the ladder disappear entirely?

Sir Michael Marmot: All societies have hier-archies. It is not conceivable, therefore, to have a society with no ladder. The conceptual framework of the Commission on Social Determinants of Health leads us to think of at least two (linked) ways to address the relation between position on the ladder and health: act at the societal level to reduce social inequalities, and break the link between position in the social hierarchy and health.

The first argues for reducing the slope of the social gradient. To see this, suppose, just for a moment, that the ladder were defined on the basis of years of education. People who had three years or fewer had life expectancy of 50 years, those who had 13 years or more had life expectancy of 80 and the rest were ranged in between in a graded way: the social gradient in health. Now if we had a societal change so that everyone had at least 10 years of education, and better health followed as a result, the magnitude of health inequity would be reduced. We have reduced inequities by making the ladder shorter. […]Full Text: PDF

Participation and empowerment in Primary Health Care: from Alma Ata to the era of globalization

Pol De Vos, Geraldine Malaise, Wim De Ceukelaire, Denis Perez, Pierre Lefèvre, Patrick Van der Stuyft

With the 1978 Alma Ata declaration, community participation was brought to the fore as a key component of primary health care. This paper describes how the concepts of people’s participation and empowerment evolved throughout the last three decades and how these evolutions are linked with the global changing socio-economic context.

On the basis of a literature review and building on empirical experience with grass roots health programs, three key issues are identified to revive these concepts: The recognition that power, power relations and conflicts are the cornerstone of the empowerment framework; the need to go beyond the community and factor in the broader context of the society including the role of the State; and, considering that communities and society are not homogeneous entities, the importance of class analysis in any empowerment framework. Full Text: PDF

Latin American Social Medicine and the Report of the WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health


In October 2008 the Latin American Social Medicine Association (ALAMES) organized an international workshop entitled “The Social Determinants of Health.” Representatives of ALAMES’ seven regions participated in discussions of the various consultative papers prepared by the working groups of the WHO Commission on the Social Determinants of Health as well as the Commission’s final report. The workshop considered how ALAMES should respond to the work of the Commission. In this paper we summarize the main points outlined in the position paper prepared by the Organizing Committee1 as well as a synopsis of the main contributions made by each of the workshop’s study sections.  Full Text: PDF

For the full Table of Contents visit:

posted by Matt Anderson, MD

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