The issue of health has been of great concern as it has attracted attention from leaders across the world. The development of any nation and its economy largely depends on the health status of its citizens (Nuru-Jetter 2002). Countries are allocating more in their budgets to cater for the health of their citizens. A prosperous nation is one which has got a healthy workforce who will ensure that there is constant productivity through all the seasons (Cooper 2004). A population that has got health issues has been found to be less productive as the workforce will spend most of their time seeking treatment while taking many days off. This will negatively affect the productivity levels. It is therefore imperative for a nation to try and deal with health issues especially if there are any disparities in the health sector.
Health disparities can be defined as the existing gaps in the quality of health of a nation and healthcare which is evident across ethnic and racial groups (Klonoff 2000). This is one of the major problems that countries are grappling with especially those with a population comprising of different races. One of such countries is Australia which has experienced health disparities due to the following reasons;
Different factors have been found to contribute to health disparities in Australia and they include the following;
There are genetic differences existing among different people which have been found to have impact on their health (Shaker 2006). This is especially the case between the black and white races. Medical researchers and geneticists have found out that people will always inherit a significant degree of genes that are susceptible to different diseases. The black and white races originate from different genetic backgrounds which are made up of varying genetic admixtures; the percentage of genes which come from different populations such as the North European Ancestry and the African ancestry (Cummings 2006).
Some diseases have been found to be prevalent among one race as opposed to the other one (Martin 1993). A case in point is the sickle cell anemia disease which commonly affects people of Mediterranean and African ancestry as opposed to the white race. On the other hand, Huntington’s disease has been found to be prevalent among the white race only with little or no cases among the blacks. Furthermore, some cancers and other diseases have been found to be prevalent among races with different genetic origins. This therefore means that some diseases which people may be suffering from may be related to their genetic background and this creates the difference hence bringing about the disparity (Institute of Medicine 2003).
This cause majorly deals with stereotypes, discrimination and racial attitudes. This ranges from the belief that one race is the target of negative health actions to the actual discrimination of the different races when it comes to provision of healthcare services and facilities (Bromberger 2001). The black race has been considered to be inferior among people and this consequently affects the kind of health facilities and services that are accorded to them. This misconception negatively affects how they are treated at health institutions with preference given to a race that is considered to be superior and in need of the service. Furthermore, an area that is inhabited by a predominant black race is less likely to be allocated health facilities sufficient enough to serve the entire place (Keppel in press). This leads to poor service delivery in the health sector with the black race bearing the consequences of lack of medical attention leading to health disparities in Australia.
There is also considerable evidence which shows that there is a positive correlation between the beliefs that one group has been a target for racism and physical and mental health problems. A study of the mental health problem included depression, psychological distress and other anxiety disorders (Carroll 2002). There were also cases of physical health problems such as poorer general health, high blood pressure and breast cancer. Among expectant black women, the perception of racism was linked with increased chances of delivering low-birth weight babies and preterm delivery. Since such scenarios are common among black women, it has led to health disparities in Australia.
Socioeconomic factors as causes of health disparities in Australia mainly deal with the income of individuals in question, their level of education, occupational prestige and other factors.
With regard to income levels, people who earn a low income from their jobs are adversely affected (Ruel 2006). The little amount of money earned means that the individual has to satisfy the most pressing needs first like food, shelter and clothing before sparing some amount for health purposes. Even when such an individual decides to seek health services, the kind of service available will depend with the amount of money allocated for that purpose. Since such individuals have little allocated for medical purposes, they will get substandard health services. Furthermore, the little income means that such people are less likely to pay for medical insurance schemes of which the rich are members. Health insurance schemes help their members to cover medical expenses incurred as agreed on the contracts they signed (Hamilton 2006). This increases the health disparities in Australia.
The level of education is also another cause of health disparities. Individuals with low levels of education have been found to be adversely affected by some diseases. Some diseases and their symptoms may not be easily discovered by the illiterate (Katz 1988). Individuals may be suffering from a certain disease of which they do not know due to poor educational background even if the disease shows all the signs. People with little education are less likely to know more about health issues and as a result, they will be unaware of certain disease symptoms and their preventive measures. In Australia, blacks are regarded as having little education in general as compared to the whites and this explains why most of the blacks are less likely to be aware of symptoms of a disease like stroke (Elixhauser 1997). This therefore increases the chances of blacks suffering from stroke as compared to whites hence contributing to health disparities.
The above three factors are the major causes of health disparities in the Australian population which need to be addressed by putting certain measures in place which will ensure that all individuals stand an equal chance of leading a healthy life despite the race, socioeconomic status and other factors (Williams 1999).
The following are actions that can be taken by early childhood centers and other stakeholders to reduce the health disparities in Australia;
One of the best ways to address the health disparity issue is through the formulation of different policies aimed at promoting health in the whole of Australia. For instance, the case of low income earners can be addressed by formulating policies to enable them save and join medical cover schemes. A good example would be compulsory contribution by their employers and the workers themselves towards a medical scheme. This will make it easier to access health services despite the level of income an individual may be earning (Doty 2004). This will help reduce the disparity caused by socioeconomic status of individuals.
Furthermore, another policy can touch on the budget expenditure that is allocated to the health sector. Policies should be formulated that aim at fair distribution of health institutions in different places so as people can have access to health facilities since they will be near them. A significant amount of the budget should be allocated to the health sector to ensure that there is efficiency in their delivery of health services to the population (Gaertner 2002). Moreover, policies should also be geared towards reducing racial discrimination among the different races. A race that is regarded to be superior is normally given priority when it comes to providing health services and this increases the health disparity level.
Achieving health equity can also be achieved if the capacity of parents, families and the community in general is strengthened. This can be done by connecting parents and families to information that is of benefit to their health. For instance the need to join medical schemes, pressing for more allocation of funds to boost the health sector and coming up with strategies as a community aimed at promoting health. Communities can organize campaigns aimed at eradicating the issue of discrimination by emphasizing the importance of equal access to health facilities and services. Where certain individuals and communities feel disadvantaged, they should press for what they believe is their right. Relevant stakeholders can help in this by enlightening the population about their rights to access medical care through provision of health facilities and services. This will play a significant role in reducing the disparity as people will agitate for equal access to health facilities (Belsky 2007).
Partnerships can be developed with relevant bodies in the health sector to ensure that there is promotion of health services and increasing chances of individuals accessing health services despite their status. For instance, non-governmental organizations can form partnerships with the government, different companies that employ Australians to ensure that they promote the idea of saving for a better healthy future. Such bodies can also subsidize the costs associated with accessing health services. Furthermore, the health organizations can partner with medical schemes to create awareness on the importance of joining such schemes that provide medical cover to its members at all times.
Resources should also be mobilized to ensure that health facilities and institutions are equally distributed. One of the factors that have created unequal distribution of health facilities and institutions is the inadequate resources and funds that are allocated towards the health sector. Therefore creating a drive for funds to promote the health sector will attract investors and other donors to help boost such services. Resources can also be mobilized at community level where the community can decide to contribute funds and set up health institutions to serve a certain locality for their own benefit (Barnes 2007).
Investment in the health sector should not be left to be the responsibility of the government. The government can also attract investment from the private sector to supplement its efforts of ensuring high quality services are provided in the health sector. A favorable environment can be created by reducing the costs of establishing such health institutions and medical cover schemes, providing tax incentives to private investors who wish to invest in the health sector and also helping then to raise initial capital required in the investment.
A favorable environment can be created especially in the areas which do not have sufficient health institutions in order to attract interest from investors to such places. For instance, the cost of land in such a place should be comparatively cheaper together with other tax exemptions. Such will attract massive investment in the health sector from private investors (Baker 1997).
Health disparity is an issue that has continued to raise concern in Australia for quite some time. Most of the causes can be addressed to ensure that there is equal access to the health facilities and that the entire population is leading a healthy life which will ensure that the workforce is productive enough. Considerable investment and efforts need to be channeled to the sector if health equity has to be achieved.
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