So after a brief break, we are back in the business of helping others along their health and wellness journey. It is so important to take rest breaks from the daily stressors of life. Even while on a brief pause, it was hard to ignore the many health issues that continue to plague our society. During the summer I continued to see the blatantly endless sea of maskless individuals acting as if the pandemic was all but over. Seeing this influenced me to pause and reflect on how far we had come, but also brought into question, what lessons have we truly learned? Additionally, there was the devastation that was felt around the world from Pakistan to our own backyards with devastating floods. The natural disasters, coupled with the muted accounting of the lives lost daily due to the pandemic, are reminders that there are still many issues that we have to contend with.
As humans, we tend to think that what we do today may not necessarily impact our future. We also feel that we have come a great way from our ancestors here on earth. These naive assumptions that Mother earth has forgotten the abuse we continue to inflict on the planet are both careless and dangerous assumptions to make. Many examples exist that demonstrate our planet is in crisis. Everything from where we live, to what we have access to, dictates how soon the crisis will impact certain sections of the population. You do not have to look far to see examples of this. There are food shortages and water shortages in many parts of the world that have already displaced people. In our society, some of our modern cities have been directly impacted by natural disasters that have opened up a plethora of problems that society failed to address. These pre-existing problems were exacerbated by recent natural disasters bringing more flooding rains than in previous years.
Make no mistake some regions of the world will reach devastation sooner such as regions of Africa, however, looming food, and water shortages will have a wider reach, and will certainly impact marginalized communities. There will be more incidents of viruses jumping from animals to humans, and the negative impact of the human need to put our selfish wants ahead of science, and facts. In the midst of all the chaos, the devastating impact will fall on communities of color and all marginalized communities that do not have voices or do not have access to quality healthcare.
Social determinants of health are factors within a community that can support or limit health access, and the quality of that access. A structural determinant is a policy or practice that influences what we have access to in our communities. Examples of social determinants are access to education and the quality of that education. Another example is the neighborhood you live in and its corresponding environment. If you are living in an environment where you have no access to a basic human right of clean and unlimited fresh drinking water, you are almost surely set up to fail. Similarly, if you live in an environment where you can become a victim of random violence, how can you feel safe going about your daily activities like work, or school?
In looking at structural barriers put in place, this may include long-standing institutional barriers such as how local hospitals may treat those in low-income areas, or who lack insurance. It also includes the significant impact that women of color are seeing when it comes to reproductive health care and the significant rise in maternal mortality rates among Black women. Hospitals are less likely to be reimbursed for treatment in certain areas that serve people of color, and marginalized communities. This has a far-reaching impact on the ability of patients in these communities to receive quality services. Medical institutions not receiving proper reimbursement are often in communities of color.
The time has come that we demand more of ourselves, and not just look to our leaders to solve these issues for us. We each play an important role in making substantial, long-lasting changes to impact the current trajectory of society’s downward spiral. We all have the capacity to educate ourselves, our family, friends, and fellow neighbors on ways to protect the environment, while demanding more accessible and equal health access. We can all make a substantial effort to improve and end disparities in healthcare and the quality and access to healthcare. We all deserve basic human rights when it comes to a safe environment, access to quality food, and sustainable resources. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Learn as if you will live forever, live like you will die tomorrow.” If we do our part to educate ourselves continually, this can save future generations forever, and if we demand equality, we are living while aware we are not promised tomorrow. Instead of depending on someone else to solve our problems, we can work as a larger community to educate and empower ourselves so that we can do better as if we are living our last days on earth.