Health disparities are the inequalities that occur in the provision of healthcare and access to healthcare across different racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups.
According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, health disparities are defined as “population-specific differences in the presence of disease, health outcomes, or access to healthcare.” In the United States, health disparities are a well known problem among ethnic minorities such as African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and Latinos.
Studies have shown that these groups have a higher prevalence of chronic conditions along with higher rates of mortality and poorer health outcomes, when compared with the white population. For example, the incident rate of cancer among African Americans is 10% higher than among whites. African Americans and Latinos are also approximately twice as likely to develop diabetes as white people are.
In addition, around 2 million Hispanics/Latinos have asthma and among Puerto Rican Americans, the incidence is around three times higher than in the Hispanic population. Among African Americans, the incident rate of asthma is 28% higher than among whites and the incidence rate of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is around two to three times greater among African American females than among white females. SLE is also more common among Hispanic, Asian, and Native American women.
Infectious diseases such as Hepatitis C are also more prevalent among African Americans who account for 22 percent of Hepatitis C cases, despite only making up around 13% of the U.S population. In 2007, almost 70% of gonorrhoea cases and around 50% of Chlamydia and syphilis cases occurred in African Americans.
Compared to the white population, African Americans are at an overall greater risk of conditions that lead to end-stage organ failure such as diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and cardiovascular disease. The requirement for organ transplant is therefore greater among this population, a need that is not currently met by the amount of organs available. Compared with other ethnic groups, the rate of organ rejection is also higher among African Americans, while the survival rate after transplantation is lower.
Developing countries are particularly prone to health disparities and in order to meet the Millennium Development Goals and resolve these health disparities, access to health care must be improved in these countries.
There are several factors that lead to these disparities, some of which are listed below:
- Poor access to healthcare
- Exposure to environmental problems
- Inadequate level of education
- Individual and behavioural factors
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc