“To ensure health equity is to ensure that everyone has the same opportunity to be healthy no matter who they are, where they live or what they do.”
The International Council of Nurses (ICN) recently released a new position statement on health inequities, discrimination and the nurse’s role.
Presenting a brief overview of the ways in which inequities and discrimination intersect with health and affect the health of all persons across the globe, the new position statement describes how experiences of discrimination, racism and historical trauma are important social determinants of health inequities for certain groups of people, such as LGBTQ+, indigenous peoples, people of colour, women and gender minorities, people with disabilities, and older persons.
ICN CEO Howard Catton said,
“The pandemic exposed existing inequalities in health and now we are experiencing widening inequalities in terms of access to health care and key outcome indicators. Numerous studies , have shown that the pandemic has exacerbated health inequalities, for example higher mortality rates occurred among older people, people from certain ethnic backgrounds, disabled people, and those living in areas of socioeconomic disadvantage.”
The World Health Organization has reported that, “Inequalities in the social determinants of health have been unmasked by the COVID-19 pandemic, and have led to glaring inequities in COVID-19 health outcomes between population groups...In turn, the broader impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have unequally impacted on the social determinants of health themselves, further exacerbating health inequities.” This causes major risks to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and Universal Health Coverage.
As the largest group of health professionals, and the most trusted, nurses are in a powerful position to directly act to dismantle and transform structural discrimination in health care. As indicated in the ICN Code of Ethics for Nurses, nurses have a professional duty to advocate for equity and social justice and a shared responsibility for initiating and supporting action to meet the health and social needs of the public, in particular those of vulnerable populations.
The new position statement also advocates for nurse-led care innovations which offer solutions that meet the needs of people and address health inequities by being non-discriminatory, accessible, appropriate, and person-centred.
As well as stating ICN’s position on the nursing role in addressing health inequities and discrimination, the position statement also addresses the actions national nursing associations (NNAs) can take in collaboration with their respective governments. These include:
ICN also called on individual nurses to:
ICN’s position statements address a variety of areas related to health, well-being and nursing professional advancement. All position statements can be found here.
BMA (7 July 2023). The impact of the pandemic on population health and health inequalities. Available at: https://www.bma.org.uk/advice-and-support/covid-19/what-the-bma-is-doing/the-impact-of-the-pandemic-on-population-health-and-health-inequalities
McGowan, VJ and Bambra, C. (November 2022). COVID-19 mortality and deprivation: pandemic, syndemic, and endemic health inequalities. The Lancet, Vol. 7, Issue 11, Available at: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpub/article/PIIS2468-2667(22)00223-7/fulltext World Health Organization (October 2021). COVID-19 and the social determinants of health and health equity: evidence brief.