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Health Equity Talk: Understandings of Health Equity among Health Leaders

1 Centre for Addictions Research of BC, University of Victoria, PO Box 1700 STN CSC, Victoria, BC, Canada
2 School of Nursing, University of Victoria, PO Box 1700 STN CSC, Victoria, BC, Canada

Special Issues: Health Equity across the Lifespan

Introduction: Reducing health inequities is a stated goal of health systems worldwide. There is widespread commitment to health equity among public health leaders and calls for reorientation of health systems towards health equity. As part of the Equity Lens in Public Health (ELPH) program of research, public health decision makers and researchers in British Columbia collaborated to study the application of a health equity lens in a time of health system renewal. We drew on intersectionality, complexity and critical social justice theories to understand how participants construct health equity and apply a health equity lens as part of public health renewal. Methods: 15 focus groups and 16 individual semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted with 55 health system leaders. Data were analyzed using constant comparative analysis to explore how health equity was constructed in relation to understandings and actions. Results: Four main themes were identified in terms of how health care leaders construct health equity and actions to reduce health inequities: (1) population health, (2) determinants of health, and (3) accessibility and (4) challenges of health equity talk. The first three aspects of health equity talk reflect different understandings of health equity rooted in vulnerability (individual versus structural), determinants of health (material versus social determinants), and appropriate health system responses (targeted versus universal responses). Participants identified that talking about health equity in the health care system, either inside or outside of public health, is a ‘challenging conversation’ because health equity is understood in diverse ways and there is little guidance available to apply a health equity lens. Conclusions: These findings reflect the importance of creating a shared understanding of health equity within public health systems, and providing guidance and clarity as to the meaning and application of a health equity lens. A health equity lens for public health should capture both the production and distribution of health inequities and link to social justice to inform action.
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Copyright Info: © 2017, Bernadette M. Pauly, et al., licensee AIMS Press. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Licese (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)

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