Juan Garay, David Chiriboga, and Nefer Kelley
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Global Public Health. Please check back later for the full article.
There is one common health objective by all nations, as stated in the constitution of the World Health Organization of 1947: the progress toward the best feasible level of health for all people. This goal captures the concept of health equity: fair distribution of unequal health. However, 70 years later, this common global objective has never been measured. Most of the available literature focuses on measuring health inequalities, not inequities, and tends to concentrate on comparisons among population subgroups, specific health risks, diseases, or health services, thereby indirectly contributing to the high fragmentation of health policies, actions, and even constituencies and resulting in competition for funds and/or priority.
A method to identify standards for the best feasible levels of health through criteria of healthy, replicable, and sustainable (HRS) models is needed. The avoidable death toll has not improved significantly since the 1970s. Younger age groups (though gradually shifting toward older age groups) and women are most affected. Data analysis of smaller sample units (such as provinces, states, counties, or municipalities) increases the sensitivity of measurement and detects higher levels of health inequity.
Most of the burden of health inequity takes place in countries with levels of income per capita below the average of the HRS countries, which is called the “dignity threshold” (the economic condition threshold necessary to enjoy the best feasible levels of health). Based on this threshold, it is possible to estimate the necessary distribution of the world’s resources compatible with the universal right to health—“the equity curve.” Income above the upper thresholds, and hence wealth accumulation, prevents others from living in conditions of dignity compatible with the universal right to health, is correlated with a carbon footprint above the ethical sustainable threshold, and does not translate into better health nor well-being. The international redistribution of wealth required to enable all nations to have at least an average per capita income above the dignity threshold would be around 8%, much higher than the present, nonbinding, and volatile levels of international cooperation, which currently lack an equity approach.
At subnational levels, the burden of health inequity can be the most sensitive barometer of socioeconomic justice among territories and the population, informing and directing fiscal and territorial equity schemes to enable all people within and between nations to enjoy the universal right to health. HRS models can also inspire lifestyles, political, and economic frameworks that increase efficiency, replicability, and sustainability of ethical well-being without undermining the rights of others in present and future generations.
Asa Cristina Laurell and Ligia Giovanella
Since the early 1990s, health policy in Latin America has focused on reform in most countries with the explicit purpose to increase access, decrease inequity, and provide financial protection. Basically, two different and opposed models of reform have been implemented: the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) model and the Single Universal Health System model. The essential characteristics of Latin American UHC are that health care is commodified by the introduction of competition that depends, in turn, on the payer/provider split, free choice, and pre-priced health service plans. In this framework, insurance, be it public or private, is crucial to assuring market solvency, because health needs not backed by purchasing power do not constitute a market that is particularly important in the Latin American region, the most unequal in the world. The Single Universal Health System (in Spanish, Sistema Universal de Salud, SUS) model is a model inspired by the principles of social justice and egalitarian, universal social rights. Characteristically funded by tax revenues, it makes provision of health services to the whole population a responsibility of the State and a universal citizens’ entitlement, independent of individual ability to pay or prior contributions. It considers health to be a public good that, for reasons of efficiency and equity, the market cannot provide. Everyone is entitled, as a right, to free care financed by the State.
Given that health system reform occurs in specific historical contexts, these models have had different results in each country. In order to highlight the concrete reform outcomes, the following issues need be addressed: the political scenario and the stakeholders involved; the previous health system and the relative strength of the public and private sectors; coverage achieved by public institutions or insurance, public or private; the different health packages existing within each country; the institutional (re)organization; and the relative importance of public health actions. An analysis is needed of the UHC reforms in Chile, Colombia, and Mexico, on the one hand; and the Single Universal Health System in Brazil, Venezuela, and Cuba on the other.
The UHC model in practice tends to increase inequity in access, create new bureaucratic barriers to timely care, fail to provide financial protection, and leads to deteriorated public health measures. It has also created new powerful private sector stakeholders, particularly in Chile and Colombia, while in Mexico the predominance of a strong public sector has “crowed-out” the private one. The Single Universal Health System has significantly increased access for millions that before reform had almost no access and has also strengthened public health actions. However, the strong preexisting private sector providers have profited from the public-sector purchases of complex medical services. Private health insurance has also increased among the upper middle class and workers belonging to strong labor unions.