NEW RESEARCH: Major WHO report on social determinants of health

Why does a girl in Lesotho live 42 years less than a girl in Japan? And how is it that in Sweden, the risk of a woman dying during pregnancy and childbirth is 1 in 17 400, while in Afghanistan the odds are 1 in 8?

The social determinants of health are under the spotlight in the results of a three year study by the World Health Organisation’s Commission on the Social Determinants of Health.

The report can be downloaded here. The Australian Science Media Centre has wrapped up scientists’ views on the report.

“New Zealand,” claims the report “has performed particularly well in steadfastly monitoring inequities and reporting those inequities in ways that best facilitate action. This has been achieved through a number of mechanisms, including a strong emphasis on ethnicity recording in the health sector, the routine matching of census with mortality records, and widespread use of a census-based small area deprivation measure, the New Zealand Deprivation Index”.

Health inequities – unfair, unjust and avoidable causes of ill health have been measured extensively within countries on a global scale for the first time.

The WHO research found:

  • Life expectancy for Indigenous Australian males is shorter by 17 years than all other Australian males.
  • Maternal mortality is 3-4 times higher among the poor compared to the rich in Indonesia. The difference in adult mortality between least and most deprived neighbourhoods in the UK is more than 2.5 times.
  • Child mortality in the slums of Nairobi is 2.5 times higher than in other parts of the city. A baby born to a Bolivian mother with no education has 10% chance of dying, while one born to a woman with at least secondary education has a 0.4% chance.
  • In the United States, 886 202 deaths would have been averted between 1991 and 2000 if mortality rates between white and African Americans were equalized. (This contrasts to 176 633 lives saved in the US by medical advances in the same period.)
  • In Uganda the death rate of children under 5 years in the richest fifth of households is 106 per 1000 live births but in the poorest fifth of households in Uganda it is even worse – 192 deaths per 1000 live births – that is nearly a fifth of all babies born alive to the poorest households destined to die before they reach their fifth birthday. Set this against an average death rate for under fives in high income countries of 7 deaths per 1000.

To talk to scientists on social determinants of health in New Zealand contact the Science Media Centre on 04 499 5476 or