By, Meredith Howard
Health is not a privilege, it is a fundamental human right. Everyone deserves the opportunity to accessible and affordable health services.
Although the U.S. has made strides in public health systems, there is still a long way to go. In a nation of 326 million people, nearly 10% of the population remains without health insurance. In Montana, 15% of the population does not have health insurance. With quality coverage, many diseases can be detected earlier or prevented entirely. In order to appropriately address health disparities, both community members and law-makers need to place a higher emphasis on the concept of health equity.
Health equity is one of the core foundations of public health. As opposed to equality, in which equal opportunities are given to all, health equity considers and reacts to the unique needs of different groups of people, referring to economic, demographic, and geographical characteristics. Equality is the ultimate outcome of an effective equitable approach.
There are many ways in which we can foster a healthy, equitable environment for communities. Monitoring air and water quality is a basic necessity in sustaining a healthy environment. Creating clean public parks and paving neighborhood sidewalks promote physical activity. Offering fresh produce at convenient locations promotes a nutritious diet. Policies that tax tobacco products and sugary drinks promote healthy lifestyles, as well.
Generally, the overall health status of Gallatin County is good. However, health disparities exist in our community. Rates of suicide and excessive drinking are notably higher in Gallatin County compared to national averages. Programs and organizations have been created in efforts to improve these issues such as the Gallatin Mental Health Center, Community Coalition on Drug Awareness, Alcohol and Drug Services, and Community Health Partners, which offers counseling on a sliding fee scale. Gallatin County reflects similarly in the national averages of cardiovascular and respiratory disease. The chronic disease self-management class, Montana Living Life Well, helps people manage their symptoms in order to live healthier, more productive lives. Still though, there remains a need for more attention and funding to prevent chronic diseases, alcoholism, and suicide in Gallatin County.
So how can you ensure the right to health? You can acknowledge health inequities in your community and support decision-makers who endorse the expansion of health coverage for everyone. Together, we can build a nation where health status isn’t marked by social determinants, but instead is a universal right.