Social determinants of health and COVID-19
Health Wise
May 12, 2020

Social determinants of health and COVID-19

Last week I looked at the mental health related aspects of COVID-19. In my previous article I referred to the World Health Organization (WHO) definition of health and highlighted that health is more than just being free from diseases. Health is defined as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being.

This week, I am addressing how the social aspects of life can impact on health and how these considerations are important in our preparedness and response to COVID-19.

While health care focus is on preventing and containing the spread of the disease by adopting measures such as quarantine, isolation and social distancing, ensuring that health care facilities have the resources to respond to the outbreak, there are multiple components that influence one’s health, but does not quite fit under the health care umbrella. These components are referred to as social determinants of health and they are important to our well-being.

Understanding how social determinants of health (SDOH) – lifestyle and environmental factors, such as job status, financial security and relationships with our environment impact a person’s overall health can help health plans tailor their programs to address the evolving needs of communities in this rapidly evolving time.

Indeed, we cannot talk about quarantine and other containment measures without examining if individuals and communities have the capacity to adhere to these measures and how will these measures impact their lives.

Factors such as education, social and community relationships, economic stability and more contribute not only to an individual’s risk of contracting COVID-19, but their likelihood of a successful recovery.

Financial stability is a very key consideration. With measures put in place, those who do not have a fixed income, or some sort of savings can find themselves vulnerable and may be at risk of loosing their jobs. This can then lead to the inability to buy food and medicines and even basic hygiene supplies to keep them safe. Those who are living in poverty will not be able to adhere to social distancing measures especially when many individuals share a small space and they may not be able to go out and “hustle” to make a living. If they do, they can put themselves at risks by participating in underground activities and further spread the disease to their families and communities.

The other important consideration is education. The level of health education and health literacy is important to ensure that individuals ad communities understand the risks and the measures that they need to put in place to protect themselves. Health authorities should make sure that health education measures are tailored to different audiences, since the way that people receive information and use health education can vary from one individual to another and from one community to another.

Widespread requirements to practice social distancing are essential to mitigate the new coronavirus’ spread. However, long-term distancing can exacerbate loneliness and present mental health challenges. Whilst virtual interactions can help, not all have access to the Internet and necessary technology to stay in touch.

Finally, issues around food security can impact communities. Although grocery stores have been allowed to continue operations during lockdowns, panicked shoppers report shortages of some essential supplies. Stores are pushing on their supply chains to meet increased demand. Essentials supplies such as toilet paper, infant formula, and disease-specific nutrition and healthy foods must remain available to ensure that people are eating healthy.

Dr Rosmond Adams, MD; MSc (Public Health); M.S (Bioethics) is a medical doctor and a public health specialist with training in bioethics and ethical issues in medicine, the life sciences and research. He is a lecturer of medical ethics and research methods. He is the Director of the Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV/AIDS (PANCAP). The view expressed here are solely those of the author and does not represent any organization or institution.