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UN Report Says Social Injustice Cutting Life Expectancy

A new report finds a combination of poverty and social injustice is killing people on a grand scale. It urges governments to fund universal health care to end these inequities. The report, which was commissioned by the World Health Organization, is the result of a three-year investigation by an eminent group of policy makers, academics, former heads of state and former ministers of health. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from the launch of the report in Geneva.

The report finds a majority of people in the world do not enjoy good health because of a toxic combination of poor social policies, unfair economics and bad politics.

Professor of University College London and chairman of the Commission, Sir Michael Marmot calls the health inequities that exist absolutely dramatic.

"Between countries, we have life expectancy differences of more than 40 years. A woman in Botswana can expect to live 43 years, in Japan 86 years... That is unnecessary. There is no good biological reason why that is the case," he said. "It arises because of the social conditions in which people are born, they grow, they live, they work and they age. And, because of the set of economic arrangements, the values of society that are responsible for those conditions."

The report says everyone should be concerned about these health inequities because people in all countries are susceptible to getting the same health problems.

For example, it notes infectious diseases and nutritional deficiencies mainly affect people in poor countries. At the same time, it notes they increasingly are dying from communicable diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, problems usually associated with the wealthier nations.

Marmot says many health problems stem from failed social policies. For instance, he says, in too many countries, girls get far less education than boys.

"That is quite wrong. It is quite wrong. We know that education is a key driver of the health of those girls when they become women. And, it is a key determinant of the health of their children when they become mothers," he said. "That infant and child deaths could be reduced to a high degree by investing in the education of women."

Marmot says the commission puts the empowerment of both women and men at the center of its recommendations. He says this is fundamental to taking action.

The report also emphasizes the importance of primary health care in closing the health gap between rich and poor. It says prevention is more effective and more affordable than long-term expensive treatment for chronic illnesses.

The commission also advocates universal health care financed through a system of general taxation. Marmot says it is distressing to see healthcare being unavailable to people just because they cannot pay for it.