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Thematic guide: Social and economic determinants of health

Thematic guide: Social and economic determinants of health

Our thematic guide to internet resources leads you beyond the limits of the Medicus Mundi International Network. Any important resources missing? Please let us know.

Starting point

The social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age, including the health system. These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels, which are themselves influenced by policy choices. The social determinants of health are mostly responsible for health inequities - the unfair and avoidable differences in health status seen within and between countries.

Responding to increasing concern about these persisting and widening inequities, WHO established the Commission on Social Determinants of Health (CSDH) in 2005 to provide advice on how to reduce them. The Commission's final report was launched in August 2008, and contained three overarching recommendations:

  1. Improve daily living conditions
  2. Tackle the inequitable distribution of power, money, and resources;
  3. Measure and understand the problem and assess the impact of action.
Source: WHO topic page


World Conference on SDH, October 2011

World Health Organization
  • World Conference on Social Determinants of Health
    Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 19-21 October 2011
  • Political Declaration on Social Determinants of Health of Health
    "The Rio Political Declaration on Social Determinants of Health expresses global political commitment for the implementation of a social determinants of health approach to reduce health inequities and to achieve other global priorities. It will help to build momentum within WHO Member States for the development of dedicated national action plans and strategies." (WHO, 21 October 2011)
  • WHO discussion paper for Rio Conference:
    Closing the gap: Policy into practice on social determinants of health

    "The Discussion Paper will inform proceedings at the World Conference on Social Determinants of Health about how countries can implement action on social determinants of health, including the recommendations of the WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health. It does not provide a blueprint, but instead lays out the key components that all countries need to integrate in implementing a social determinants approach."
Civil Society positions
  • Protecting the Right to Health through action on the Social Determinants of Health. A Declaration by Public Interest Civil Society Organisations and Social Movements
    Rio de Janeiro, 18th October 2011
  • Debate and action about the social determinants of health: The position of the civil society movements
    Alames and others, Rio de Janeiro, October 2011
  • Determinants of disease, health and well-being. Rights, equity, justice: Rumpus in Rio
    Report by the PHM team at the Rio conference.
  • Social Determinants of Health: Redistribution, Regulation and Rights
    Remco van de Pas, Wemos, blogging for MMI from Rio:

Analysis after the Conference

  • Healthy and unhealthy lives - socially determined
    Corinna Heineke discussing the WHO SDH conference in Rio
  • Social Determinants of Health: Life after Rio
    Ted Schrecker, healthy policies, October 2011
  • Campaigners propose radical agenda to tackle ill-health
    Sarah Boseley in: The Guardian, October 2011


Recent WHO statements, reports and discussion papers

Key documents

  • Adelaide Statement on Health in All Policies
    "Government objectives are best achieved when all sectors include health and well-being as a key component of policy development. This is because the causes of health and well-being lie outside the health sector and are socially and economically formed. Although many sectors already contribute to better health, significant gaps still exist. The Adelaide Statement outlines the need for a new social contract between all sectors to advance human development, sustainability and equity, as well as to improve health outcomes." Report from the International Meeting on Health in All Policies, Adelaide 2010 (pdf).
  • Closing the gap in a generation: Health equity through
    action on the social determinants of health

    "Social justice is a matter of life and death. It affects the way people live, their consequent chance of illness, and their risk of premature death. We watch in wonder as life expectancy and good health continue to increase in parts of the world and in alarm as they fail to improve in others." Final report of the WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health (2008)
  • People's Charter for Health
    "Health is a social, economic and political issue and above all a fundamental human right. Inequality, poverty, exploitation, violence and injustice are at the root of ill‐health and the deaths of poor and marginalised people. Health for all means that powerful interests have to be challenged, that globalisation has to be opposed, and that political and economic priorities have to be drastically changed." The charter was endorsed by the first People's Health Assembly, Savar, Bangladesh, 2000.
  • Declaration of Alma Ata
    "The existing gross inequality in the health status of the people particularly between developed and developing countries as well as within countries is politically, socially and economically unacceptable and is, therefore, of common concern to all countries. Economic and social development, based on a New International Economic Order, is of basic importance to the fullest attainment of health for all and to the reduction of the gap between the health status of the developing and developed countries. The promotion and protection of the health of the people is essential to sustained economic and social development and contributes to a better quality of life and to world peace." International Conference on Primary Health Care, Alma Ata, USSR, 1978 (pdf)

Further resources

Advocacy and campaigns

  • Economic governance for health
    "Global economic governance matters to global health. Existing arrangements for global economic governance are undemocratic, unfair and undermine global health goal. The health community should be at the vanguard of efforts to reform global economic governance. Support EG4Health to give the global health community the voice and power to make change happen."
  • see our thematic guide "global health policy and governance"

Social determinants, health equity, right to health: Recent papers and positions









This section of the guide is updated monthly
Source: MMI updates on Twitter


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