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Got Health Equity?

Betty Chung
Chair, Race, Ethnicity, and Culture in Health Action Committee
UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic Medicine

AMSA’s Race, Ethnicity, and Culture in Health (REACH) Action Committee is hosting its 2nd annual Health Equity Week of Action (HEWA), January 10-14, 2011.

HEWA brings national attention to the issue of health equity, a concept not often taught in health professional curricula, to empower future health professionals-in-training to advocate for social and health justice in their communities. While most students can name specific health disparities, whether genetic, due to one’s environment, or man-made, many cannot verbalize exactly what the term health equity means. HEWA is meant to shine a light on and make visible the socio-economic and racial health inequities in our communities that we may often neglect or not see.

When referring to the health of populations or communities, health inequities result from systemic conditions that are not only unfair but also avoidable and therefore, inherently unjust. Health inequities can be traced back to unequal socio-economic status and inequitable distribution of resources from policies that we as a society created. Higher wealth status means higher health status and this should not be in a country that boasts some of the best medicine and technology in the world.

A recent Columbia University study ranked the United States 49th among all industrialized countries in terms of life expectancy for both men and women combined. What do these other countries know that we don’t? While these other countries have some form of national health care system, it is not only an issue of healthcare access that we lack for many in the U.S., but just as, if not more importantly, a lack of an egalitarian belief in a shared, social welfare that undermines our society’s health as a whole. Valuing individual responsibility and accountability for one’s fate over all other values has come at the cost of believing that working together for a common good, that of a healthy society, will benefit us as individuals as well.

Through this week of action, we hope to light the fire to build a student health equity movement. We hope to reframe the way that we view how we can most impact health issues in our country and to show that these health disparities are unfair because we put into place the policies that created, propagated, and maintain them. And most importantly, to empower future health professionals-in-training and community members that it is our social responsibility to work together to make such change possible!

We’d like to thank our national co-sponsors this year for HEWA that include other organizations that also believe in working towards health equity:

• American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA)
• Association of Native American Medical Students (ANAMS)
• Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association (APAMSA)
• American Public Health Association - Student Assembly (APHA-SA)
• National Association of City and County Health Officials (NACCHO)
• Native Health Initiative (NHI)
• Student National Medical Association (SNMA)
• Student Osteopathic Medical Association (SOMA)

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