Assess the Relationship between Sex, Gender, Diversity, Equity and Health

While equity is important in every dimension of life, it is clear that it is intimately connected with sex, gender and diversity, and has profound implications for health and well-being.

Consider, for example, the management of the H1N1 (swine) flu epidemic in Canada. In 2009, the media reported that members of the Calgary Flames, a National Hockey League (NHL) team – and their families – were vaccinated weeks before public vaccination clinics were opened and even though the country was in the midst of a vaccine shortage. The team president and coaching staff argued that the players needed the vaccinations because of the amount of travel and bodily contact involved in their jobs, but they came in for a great deal of criticism because others perceived that money, prestige, and connections allowed the players to jump the line. The relationship between gender and equity is evident in this aspect of the H1N1 crisis because the players benefited from their privileged status as hockey players and the NHL only accepts men. [1]

The links between sex, equity and health was also apparent in another dimension of the epidemic. At the same time that the Calgary Flames were being vaccinated against the virus, there was growing concern in Canada and around the world that H1N1 posed a serious health risk for pregnant women. According to Dr. Michael Gardam, a director with the Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion, “If [pregnant women] get infected with this, they are four to six times more likely to get a serious disease than a woman who is not pregnant,” As a result, the Canadian government acquired an additional 200,000 doses of the vaccine and special clinics were set up in many places to ensure that pregnant women were among the first to be vaccinated. While this meant that pregnant women were given priority to get their shots – as were the members of the Calgary Flames – the decision to tailor a response to a group at high risk was designed to promote equity. In other words, earlier vaccination of pregnant women gave them the best chance of having outcomes that were similar to those of other women as well as men. [2]

The H1N1 epidemic and its management show that power and privilege come in different sizes and shapes and can arise and operate in many different situations affecting health and well-being. Health equity requires that we work to identify and eliminate power imbalances.

While it is important to promote equity on moral grounds, there are also important economic and social reasons for addressing inequity. Health inequities translate directly into increased health care costs by increasing health care needs. They also have indirect economic effects, because they contribute to increased sick leave, reduced productivity, and out-of-pocket expenses for those who experience ill health. Health inequities also affect social well-being by compromising the health of specific sub-populations.

According to a recent report to the World Health Organization: “Taking action to improve gender equity in health is one of the most direct ways to reduce health inequities and ensure effective use of heath resources” (Ostlin).

Sources: [1] http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/story/2009/11/03/calgary-flames-h1n1-swine-flu-shot.html; [2] http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/story/2009/10/26/h1n1-vaccine.html; http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/story/2009/10/22/h1n1-vaccine-pregnant-women-sogc.html

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