By Grace E. von Maluski
While exploring the front page of the World Health Organization website, I noticed an unavoidable theme among recently reported health controversies. The fundamental theme that I wanted to investigate further involved the nature and process of instituting a public health policy. In order for a policy to be successfully executed, it must be supported through a series of governing institutions. Public health policies must balance any demands that exist between these governing institutions involved in the political and cultural decisions of a country. When implementing public health policies, the ever-present problem that exists in the inter sectional cycle of policy-making is that many institutions refuse to accept and support the policy based on ideological differences, and ultimately provide staunch resistance against that policy.
For the field of public health to be successful in providing quality health services to the global community, public health officials must interact with a variety of historically uncompromising institutions, such as the social ideologies of the constituents, the religious culture, and the political ideologies of the prevailing governmental structure. Between each highly diverse institution, we can foresee the potential for constant debate to create policies that favor their own ideological systems. Positive public health policies can only be derived from compromise and collaboration between all of these different governing bodies. Without that compromise, the people who will suffer the greatest amount are not the politicians or the religious leaders, but the communities that are struggling without a public health intervention and could significantly benefit from that policy.
A prime example of inequality was exhibited when the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) was initially titled the “Gay Man’s” disease in Western cultures. At the time, men who identified as homosexual were perceived to be “unnatural” to the general public, creating wrongful stereotypes surrounding the homosexual identity that have persisted until today. AIDS as the “Gay Man’s” disease produced a variety of reactions from the political, religious, and cultural sections of Western culture. What if public health officials had relied heavily on only one of those institutions for direction on how preventing and treating the new health issue? Do you believe that the education on preventing the transmission of AIDS would have been provided to the public?
In a cross-cultural setting, another example to describe this type of inequality can be found in the personal stories that comprise Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. The authors explored the intersectionality of gender inequality in healthcare accessibility in India, Somalia, and Cambodia. Not only is healthcare inaccessible to lower-income individuals across the world, but we also are exposed to how gender, religious preferences, and traditional culture can alter who will receive healthcare prevention and treatment. While in office, George W. Bush revoked extremely necessary funding from a series of crucial United States health aid programs, based on the news that some of these organizations provided contraceptives and abortion to women in Sub-Saharan Africa and China. President Bush’s private religiousness negatively intersected with the health of women and families abroad, indicating the power between the political, religious, and public health sectors in making policy.
Instead of focusing on these institutions to guide behavior, what if our global community determined that public health ought to be an instrument to engage the development of human rights for all people? By prioritizing health as the means to grow into an egalitarian culture, we can focus our collective attention to the marginalized groups of people who are not receiving care. To redistribute resources and strategies to include those individuals in public health policy could make a significant difference in how we care for each other in our global community.
– Kristof, Nicholas D, and Sheryl WuDunn. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009. Print.
-The Center for Disease Control: http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/surveillance/basic.htm
– The Guardian—“HIV Is Not A Gay Disease”: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/may/01/hiv-not-gay-disease
– The New York Times—“Gloria Steinem, A Woman Like No Other”: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/18/fashion/in-the-womans-movement-who-will-replace-gloria-steinem.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
– The New York Times—“The War Against Women”: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/01/12/opinion/the-war-against-women.html
-The World Health Organization online website (for inspiration purposes only, no sources explicitly used).