A major shift in thinking is needed for dealing with health equity issues in the Asia-Pacific region, according to a new report by the Global Action on Health Equity Network (HealthGAEN), co-founded by researchers at The Australian National University.


An Asia Pacific spotlight on health inequity: Taking Action to Address the Social and Environmental Determinants of Health Inequity in Asia Pacific 2011 was launched at the World Health Organisation (WHO) World Conference on Social Determinants of Health in Rio de Janerio last week.


ANU Associate Professor and chair of HealthGAEN Sharon Friel said the report brings together a range of evidence on what can and must be done to improve health inequity.


“Health inequity is still a major problem in the Asia Pacific region,” she said. “There is no biological reason for the 23 year difference in life expectancy between countries in Asia Pacific or the 12 year difference in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian males.


“As Asia Pacific is home to over 60 per cent of the world’s population, improving the conditions for health and health equity here would vastly improve global health equity.”


Professor Friel said there was significant energy among many politicians, policy makers, researchers, advocacy groups and communities to curtail health and health equity problems.


“However, much of our discussion about health equity still has a sole focus on economic growth or on health care systems as the key to solving these problems,” she said.


“With health problems in the region being largely socially and increasingly environmentally determined this will not be sufficient to meet the health needs of the region in the coming decades.


“This report argues for a paradigm shift in the way we think about and improve health equity. Health and health equity need to be addressed across all facets of life – social, economic and environmental.”


Professor Friel said that while there had been movement in this area, there was still work to be done.


“With the sheer size of the Asia-Pacific region, we are seeing a range of new and innovative measures being adopted across the region to solve health equity issues,” she said.


“The report has identified many entry points across different sectors including trade, urban planning, climate change, social services and health care through which improvements in the distribution of power, money and resources, and conditions of daily living can be tackled.


“However, a huge challenge still remains. Without leadership, political courage, progressive public policy and social struggle people will continue to live with illness and die needlessly.”


This report has been a collaborative initiative, with contributions from over 40 researchers, policy-makers and health equity advocates from across the Asia Pacific region and was developed with the support of the Australian National University, the WHO (WPRO) and VicHealth.


Download the report at www.healthgaen.org