7 February 2022
I want to start this blog by asking you, why we are getting sick? Why do some people live longer than others? Why do some people survive severe diseases and others not?
There is a big myth that everything related to health must be managed in hospitals and clinics. But actually, have you thought about what affects our quality of life? Some of us believe that if someone survives breast cancer, they were lucky. Unfortunately, not all of us go beyond the disease and explore social factors.
Social determinants of health are the factors that actually influence our chances of getting sick, surviving severe illness, and living life well. Those factors are quite basic: age, sex, education, work, housing, birthplace, living environment, socioeconomic status, healthcare and quality of care.
Did you know that low socioeconomic status can increase the risk of getting various diseases such as depression, obesity, cardiovascular disease or HIV? Housing conditions could lead to different allergies. Or education could decrease your chances of contracting an infectious disease.
I want to give you an example of two women living in the same area, but having different social determinants of health. Rebecca is 48 years old and works in a bank and has a prosperous family and career. Jessica is also a 48 years old but is recently divorced, has three children and works two jobs.
Both women get notifications inviting them to go for a free check-up for cervical cancer. Rebecca, after a few days, registers and does her screening. Jessica decides to delay her check-up as she will lose some hours at work and won’t be able to pay rent.
After three years, Rebecca receives an email again for a check-up, and the specialist finds cervical cancer. She gets operated on straight away, becomes cancer-free and successfully continues her life.
Jessica again decides not to go for a check-up. After one year, Jessica, experiencing immense pain, goes to see a doctor. She is diagnosed with late-stage cancer and metastasis. Specialists are not able to save her life.
This small example shows how social factors could affect our lives. Improving access to some basic needs such as clean water could save and improve thousands of people’s lives.
Improving housing conditions, education and reform of the healthcare system has led to a rapid increase in life expectancy in many countries in the last decades. Despite this fact, social determinants are still the main reason we are still getting sick. It’s one of the biggest public health priorities to improve those factors.
In 2015, the United Nations and 178 countries developed 17 goals and agreed to meet them by 2030. Some of the goals were ending poverty and hunger, and providing clean water and sanitation, and quality education. Achieving those goals would significantly improve our health.
Deividas is studying Public Health at ARU in Chelmsford. To find out more about our degree courses and student life at ARU, book your place at an Open Day.