Social determinants of health such as income are matters of profound concern to physicians and the national medical associations who represent them, including the Canadian Medical Association (CMA).
That was the clear message from a conference that took place in London, UK, at the end of March that was co-sponsored by the CMA, British Medical Association, World Medical Association (WMA) and the University College London Institute of Health Equity.
The keen interest in this area among physicians and the public was demonstrated by the response to a blog post about the conference by CMA President Chris Simpson , who spoke at the event. The post has received thousands of views and prompted widespread debate on social media about the role of the medical profession in addressing health inequities.
In his post, Simpson provided a detailed summary of the meeting, noting the scope of international speakers and the important role played by some Canadian physicians in this area — including CMA former president Dr. Anna Reid, who spoke about health inequities and First Nations peoples.
“Canada’s work on the social determinants of health stands out on the international stage, although we have much more work to do,” Simpson blogged.
Addressing the fundamental issue of why physicians should care about the social determinants of health, Simpson wrote “everything that affects the health of our patients should concern us.”
He continued: “We have only just begun to explore the positive influence doctors can have at the bedside, in the boardrooms, in academic health policy circles and at the political level (locally, nationally and internationally).
“The CMA is proud of Canada’s physician leaders in bringing these issues to the fore, and we will continue to make this a core strategic priority for the organization.”
The prominent role played by the CMA was applauded by Dr. Gary Bloch, from St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto, who has developed and implemented a clinical tool to help assess and ‘treat’ poverty. In London, Bloch presented work on the multidisciplinary, multi-faceted approach to social determinants taken by the family health team at St. Michael's.
“I am amazed at how well the CMA has positioned itself and Canadian medicine as a global centre of action on the social determinants of health,” he said following the meeting.
Delegates provided input into continuing WMA policy work on health equity and the social determinants over the coming year, after hearing examples of practical actions that medical associations and individual physicians can take to address these issues.
Health inequities and the social determinants of health are stated priorities for Sir Michael Marmot, director of the Institute of Health Equity and an acknowledged international leader on health equity who will become WMA president in October.
The conference outcome will also be discussed at the 200th WMA Council Session meeting in Oslo, Norway, April 16-18.