Health minister launches new equality initiative

Experts welcome the move, but argue that the initiative will not solve inequality issues

The health minister, Astrid Krag (Socialistisk Folkeparti), has revealed a new health initiative that promises to enhance equality in the health sector so that the health and life expectancy of the nation's residents won’t be dependant upon their social status.

As part of the initiative, a number of public figures will be asked to function as special 'equality ambassadors' in order to combat the widening health inequality gap between the poor and the affluent.

”If we are to do something about the increasing inequality in health, which has nearly doubled in the past 25 years, then we need to look at policies in a fundamentally new way,” Krag said in a ministry press release. “Naturally, I am not the only one who thinks that it is completely unreasonable that there is as much as a ten-year difference in life expectancy between the richest and the poorest segments of the population.”

Krag went on to say that the prominent public figures, which will include the heads of patient and health organisations, will receive letters in which the minister will encourage them to step up and become equality ambassadors.

Frede Olesen, the head of cancer fighting organisation Kræftens Bekæmpelse, has already agreed to become an ambassador, as has Vibe Klarup Voetmann, the head of the Danish mental health organisation, PsykiatriFonden.

But Krag underlined that the initiative is a national goal and she therefore encouraged other to get involved.

“Clearly, each person will approach being equality ambassador in their own way, and there are differences in how the head of Kræftens Bekæmpelse or PsykiatriFonden will act compared to a teacher, but all three are important,” Krag told DR News.

Several experts, however, said that, while the ambassador initiative is a welcomed move by Krag and the Health Ministry, it is woefully inadequate.

“All initiatives that will reduce inequality in health are positive, but this is not something that will change the health inequality on its own. It will take a much more powerful effort since the inequality gap has been widening for decades now,” Finn Diderichsen, a professor at the Department of Health at the University of Copenhagen, told DR News.

Børge Koch, the head of the Knowledge Centre for Health Promotion at University College Syddanmark, agreed that the initiative would not suffice.

“I think it is really nice that they focus on inequality, but I highly doubt that it is enough in terms of overcoming this challenge,” Koch told DR News.

Factfile | 'Equality ambassadors'

According to the Health Ministry's website, equality ambassadors will be expected to:

–  Contribute to everyone in Denmark being able to live a long and healthy life, regardless of their income or education.

–  Make inequality a priority talking point wherever they are.

–  Use their knowledge and experience about barriers and solutions to inequality within health, and spread the message to others.

–  Work with others who also work towards minimising health inequality.

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