3 November 2011

How Can We Get the Social Determinants of Health Message on the Public Policy and Public Health Agenda?




A study from Utah, USA that has relevance globally and published as a background WHO paper for the World Conference on Social Determinants of Health in Brazil this month.


The social gradient is deeper 
Inequalities in health resulting in disparities in life expectancies are evident even at the lowest reportable data level, down to the small area or zip code-level. The challenge has always been what to do about it.


Communicating contextualised and actional data
In as much as comprehensive epidemiology reports are helpful and serve various purposes, to act on the evidence, policy makers and public health practitioners need simple, precise, accurate, easy-to-understand,
easy-to-learn, visualizeable information at their constituents’ level. Where reliable data are already available and regularly reported; use technology and  existing health metrics to support the SDH message.  A succinct and visualize-able demographic and health landscape that focuses on vital priorities at the community level can be a mechanism by which the social determinants of health message  could be recognized, acted upon, directed, and evaluated down to the local levels of governance.


Framing the message according to local needs: “What’s wrong? Why does it matter? What should be done about it?”
The problem is not always the lack of data as much as how they are communicated. How we communicate the evidence is strategic in engaging both policy makers and the public. Presented wisely, used effectively, directed to the right audience, within the context of the social determinants of health, data can elicit interest, help inform, engage, advocate, and initiate action. Existing data framed in a manner that speak to community needs and issues that the people can connect with and in a language that people can understand is more likely to resonate across the political spectrum.

Keep repeating the message.
The social determinants of message can get lost in a flurry of competing political and health issues. Marketing the message calls for repeatedly disseminating and reiterating the information to counter the fatalistic mindset towards effecting change.

Engaging the right people in doing the right thing: Having a shared vision and focus of improved health and reduction of health disparities. 
The social determinants of health result from “the way we organize our affairs in society.”7 These factors are so intricately embedded in the realities of daily living that reducing the inequities we have created means partnering with the right people from various sectors ---those who share a vision and have the skills, courage, and resolve to bring about change in the system or with the system.