Social determinants of health

Fact sheet
9 March 2012

Key facts

  • 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 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.
  • In its Report to the World Health Assembly in 2009, the WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health observed that, although health inequities are increasing both within and between countries, they are not inevitable, but rather the result of policy failures. The report gathered evidence on social determinants and ways to overcome health inequities and on actions to address them. It made three main recommendations:
    • improve daily living conditions;
    • tackle the inequitable distribution of power, money and resources; and
    • measure and understand the problem and assess the impact of action.
  • Specifically for WHO, the Commission recommended work in three areas:
    • strengthen global and national capacities to address social determinants, including providing support for a “health in all policies” approach, and to assess the impacts of global polices on health inequities;
    • strengthen efforts to measure and evaluate health inequities, through national health-equity surveillance systems and appropriate tools; and
    • build internal capacity to address social determinants and health inequities.

WHOs’ response

  • The WHO Western Pacific Regional Office provides support to strengthen national capacities to address the social determinants of health, and to develop and implement policies and programmes—both within health and across other sectors—to reduce health inequities. Its work in this area links closely to its work in health systems strengthening and promoting a primary health care approach.
  • WHO convened a global conference on 19-21 October 2011 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to build support for the implementation of action on social determinants of health. Participating Member States adopted the Rio Political Declaration on Social Determinants of Health, which expresses global political commitment for the implementation of a social determinants of health approach to reduce health inequities and to achieve other global priorities.
  • The Rio Political Declaration will help build national and international momentum for action around the following 5 key themes:
    • To adopt better governance for health and development
    • To promote participation in policy-making and implementation
    • To further reorient the health sector towards reducing health inequities
    • To strengthen global governance and collaboration
    • To monitor progress and increase accountability
Share