Dear friends and colleagues,
What a year!
2020 will be remembered as the year a pandemic and social unrest left the world in disarray. Hopefully, it will also be recalled as the tipping point that led to increased social justice. COVID-19 caught us unprepared. It exposed the fragility of our social fabric and exacerbated existing inequities in health. The disparities were fueled by the impact of the social determinants of health and inequities: the circumstances in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age and their status in society. Chronic injustice in the world’s wealthiest economy was on full display, with Native Americans, Latinx, and Black people close to three times more likely to die from COVID-19 than whites.
Yet, we also saw creativity, ingenuity, solidarity, and compassion. We were inspired by the courage and resilience of health workers around the world.COVID-19 has presented us with a unique opportunity and argument for transforming our health and health education systems. The shortage of health workers and our fragmented, unequal, and hospital-centric health systems resulted in avoidable COVID deaths. At least 80% of people hospitalized for COVID-19 suffered from underlying health conditions that could easily have been taken care of at community levels. Yet, health systems and health professional education remain specialty-driven and still lack a focus on public health, primary care, and social determinants of health.
The Training for Health Equity Network (THEnet) is well placed to lead the way. Over a decade, THEnet and our partners made significant progress in fostering equity-oriented and community-engaged health professional education. Our socially accountable education approaches have been recognized by the World Health Organization as benchmarks for success in training and retaining fit-for-purpose health professionals with the competencies required to work where they are most needed.
This year also shed light on how racism, bias, and discrimination impact people’s health and lived experiences, whether in high or low-income countries. And we saw the pandemic’s disproportionate effect on women. THEnet advocates for increasing the role of communities in institutional decision-making and for students, faculty, and leadership to reflect the diversity of the population it serves. To reduce health inequities, we need to ensure that institutional policies, practices, and cultures do not perpetuate bias, discrimination, and harmful narratives.
Yet, we need to do more.
COVID-19 provides an opportunity to accelerate change – whether it be improving access through telemedicine or intersectoral action to address social determinants of health.
In 2021, we will complete our USAID-funded project to help schools and health facilities mitigate the effect of the social determinants of health. We are also launching a project that helps health professional education institutions end racism and discrimination in education and health care.
We are committed to bridging the gap between educational institutions and the communities they serve. We hope to increase our research on community-driven solutions and support faculty, students, and graduates working in poor and marginalized communities. It will also want to create a mentoring program for women in health workforce education to strengthen their role in shaping policies, practices, and solutions.
Let’s seize the moment and address the causes of inequity to ensure we will not be caught as unprepared when the next pandemic or disaster strikes.
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Warm wishes for a healthy, peaceful, and more equitable 2021.
Björg and André-Jacques
Co-founders of THEnet