Lovell's Food For Thought - Is Addressing Health Inequities A Bridge Too Far

Is Addressing Health Inequities in a Holitic Mannner "A Bridge Too Far?"

Dr. Lovell Jones | 5/14/2017, 6 a.m.
A question I am asking this year is whether or not addressing health disparities/inequities is "A Bridge Too Far." What ...
The 15th Annual Disparities in Health in America: Working Toward Social Justice Workshop, is it "A Bridge Too Far?"

"Public Health Disparities Make Us All Sick" is the theme of this year's 15th Annual Disparities in Health in America: Working Toward Social Justice Workshop. This year, the workshop/meeting will be held on the campus of Rice University in the Shell Auditorium at the Jones Graduate School of Business. For 15 years, the workshop and the Fall course have been taking a different approach in educating the next generation. As Co-Chair Dr. Lisako McKyer said to one of the scholarship awardees for this year’s workshop, "I attended as a student, and it literally changed my life and impacted my career goals and aspirations deeply." The question that has perplexed me over the years is, how to translate this life changing event into attendance, and ultimately change the trajectory of health inequities and therefore the health of this nation, both mentally and physically? 

I have been told that the vision is too narrow. Not that it is too focused, but that it is ahead of the curve, the tip of the iceberg, where people see the tip and not the entire vision. It is evident that such doesn't serve the workshop well. That with Public Health, it is always playing catch-up. That the ideas and initiatives championed by the workshop and situated in biopsychosocial approaches were well before the new sexy term or flavor of the day and therefore didn’t gain traction easily. That visionaries are often alone... However, it has been 15 plus years, so it must be more than that. However, as the old adage goes, without a vision the people shall perish. 

I have also been told, Public Health periodically hits a wall typically induced by government freezes and political climates one can't expect them to come because you call or to get on board because you present the opportunities. In addition, there will always be a lag because the visionary will often be ahead of others and is therefore destined to be alone. Then add on that visionaries are sometimes accused of being self-serving.

At times if one is lucky, they will have the support of a small cadre who too share the vision and are willing to help make it manifest. I have been lucky to have such a group. Who year after year come forth to help put on the workshop. However, the question here becomes, how long does it take to see the vision that Health Disparities/Inequities are a societal problem. That it takes a populous knowledgeable and ability to recognize the inequity, not just in health, but the other contributing facts, even outside of the social determinants of health. A willingness to mobilize, and a willingness to be prepared to interrogate false narratives that say: “the gap between the rich and the poor is shrinking”, “people are living longer”, and “access to healthcare is better than ever”. For more than 15 years of the Disparities in Health in America: Working Toward Social Justice Educational Program has been a source of this very instruction, yet somehow, we, people aren't interested in attending. Could it be because health disparities are no longer the flavor of the day? Have people moved on to the latest sexy topic? Surely the prevailing attitude can't be that the wicked problems of health inequity in America has been resolved....I'll digress.