Vulnerable populations are more susceptible to risks as a result of exposure to social, economic, political, geographic, structural and historical forces. This disadvantages their health. To bring about equity in health outcomes at the societal level, it is therefore important that availability and access to quality medical and social care be provided for such populations. This is not easy because, in general, those who need medical care are least likely to receive it (also known as the Inverse Care Law).
The Centre for Vulnerable Populations (CVP) recognises that medical care is not the only factor to consider in improving health outcomes. Equally important, if not more, are existing social conditions that render the management of diseases much more challenging, for example:
- Being homeless during winter leads to contracting pneumonia.
- To control diabetes rates, it is important to create environments that will encourage positive health outcomes, such as improving access to healthier types of food.
- Stress arising from poverty is an important factor behind many of the vulnerable population developing chronic diseases. Investing in families will reduce stress, allowing them to be better off, including better health outcomes.
As vulnerable groups are exposed to greater levels of social vulnerabilities (e.g., lower language and literacy skills which prevent them from making effective use of existing services), this leads to negative health outcomes. Thus, the key is not only to manage the disease, but also the social environment of vulnerable groups. Doing so will positively impact their health outcomes.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dean Schillinger is Professor of Medicine, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco General Hospital.