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Progress on health equity is stalling across Europe: WHO

World Health Organisation’s (WHO) first-ever health equity status report reveals that health inequities in many of the 53 countries in the WHO European Region remain either the same or have worsened despite attempts by governments to address them.

The report newly identifies five key risk factors that are holding many children, young people, women and men back from achieving good health and leading safe and decent lives.

‘For the first time, the health equity status report provides governments with the data and tools they need to tackle health inequities and produce visible results in a relatively short period of time, even within the lifetime of a national government of 4 years,’ says Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe.

The range of policies outlined in the report stimulates both sustainable development and economic growth. Reducing inequities by 50% would produce financial benefits to countries ranging from 0.3% to 4.3% of gross domestic product (GDP), the report finds.

There is a significant health divide among rich and the poor population.

While average life expectancy across the region increased to 82 years for women and 76.2 years for men by 2016, there are still significant health inequities between social groups: a woman’s life expectancy is cut by up to 7 years and a man’s by up to 15 years if they are in the most disadvantaged groups.

Almost twice as many women and men in the least affluent 20%of the population report illnesses that limit their freedom to carry out daily activities, compared to those in the most affluent 20%.

In the most deprived areas, 4% more babies do not survive their first year compared to babies born in more affluent areas.

Health gaps between socioeconomic groups widen as people age, with 6% more girls and 5% more boys report poor health in the least affluent households compared to those in the most affluent households.

This gap rises to 19% more women and 17% more men during working age, and peaks among those aged 65 and over with 22% more women and 21% more men reporting poor health in the least affluent households compared to the most affluent households.

Where you live influences how long and how well you are able to live. Trends show that in almost 75% of countries surveyed, the differences in life expectancy between the most and least advantaged regions have not changed in over a decade, and in some cases have worsened.

‘This report explains how we can achieve health equity and bring positive change into the lives of all people in our Region. Through this effort we can achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly goal 10 on reducing inequity – the only goal which is not improving in our region,’ says Dr Jakab.

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