Diverse perspectives foster unique solutions to some of the tough challenges we face today. As such, it is critical that we celebrate and promote diversity whenever possible. Unfortunately however, as individuals in the public health
field, we also acknowledge that there exist great health disparities between diverse groups based on socioeconomic status, ethnicity, gender, and age, among others. For example, African Americans are more likely than their White counterparts to be diagnosed with and die from many health conditions including diabetes, cancer, stroke, and heart disease. Health disparity is not just a national issue; massive disparities exist between developed and developing countries. A national and international dialogue has begun – and must
continue – to acknowledge the health disparities that exist across diverse groups, and the multi-level solutions that need to be implemented.
As a student coming to the School of Public Health from Canada, I have had the opportunity to experience two different approaches to addressing health disparities on a national level.
In Canada, the purpose of the Canada Health Act, the legislation that regulates our universal health insurance system, is to “protect, promote and restore the physical and mental well-being of residents of Canada and to facilitate reasonable access to health services without financial or other barriers.” It is clear from this guiding principle that the State acknowledges the barriers, financial or otherwise, that some individuals or groups may have when attempting to access healthcare.
The way in which healthcare is delivered in the United States presents different challenges in providing care in a way that does not disproportionately affect those of different socioeconomic status, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or age. However, as public health students, researchers, and professionals, we acknowledge that access to the formal healthcare system is not the only factor contributing to disparity in health outcomes. Societal, environmental, and behavioral factors also contribute to the health disparities
This issue of Continuum is dedicated to celebrating diversity and discussing the reality of health disparities in America and abroad. Earlier this year, President Christina Paxson released Pathways to Diversity and Inclusion: An Action Plan for Brown University, which outlined a number of important steps required to make Brown a more diverse community, and to address the disparities within our student and faculty populations. Under the direction of Dean Fox Wetle, the School of Public Health released its own Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan, which recognizes the unique contribution a public health perspective can bring to inclusion efforts on campus.
Promoting an understanding and appreciation of diversity and health is as important now as it has ever been. There are many public health issues facing us today, many of which are experienced disproportionately by groups based on socioeconomic status, ethnicity, gender, and age. The School of Public Health at Brown University is committed to furthering education and research in this area to advance faculty and students who are prepared to tackle the tough challenges ahead of us.