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World Health Day 2024

7 April 2024

This year's World Health Day theme is ‘My health, my right.’ I like it.  The core message, at least the way I read it, is that we all have a human right to good quality health care. It’s an uncontroversial position in Australia where we do, even if it’s shrinking, have universal health care.

It brings to mind the distinction between equality (everyone gets the same resources) and equity (everyone gets the resources they need). Equity acknowledges a difference in needs, and in every country in the world there is an intimate link between poverty and health needs. This link is particularly clear (exponential) when we talk about intergenerational poverty and child homelessness (including out-of-home care) and most acutely in indigenous health and the health of people who use drugs.

As healthcare is mostly funded by the government in Australia, a commitment to equity, means a commitment to proactively providing integrated services for people living with multiple co-occurring needs, usually as a result of adverse childhood events. First Nations Australians might make the distinction between being ‘vulnerable’ and being ‘targetted’. So might people living with mental distress or intravenous drug users.

So, it’s lovely to talk about health equality, but what is our government doing to work towards health equity. That’s the whole business of First Step, and it’s important that we remember it. To quote American counsellor Vikki Reynolds “If what we are doing is ethical and helpful, we won’t be burnt out.” Even if they don’t use the language, there’s a bit of a social justice warrior in all of us at First Step. And its fair to say that we’re not entirely happy with the health equity of our clients. How about we take a few billion out of the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff (prisons) and put it into a fence at the top (primary health care)?

Patrick Lawrence
Chief Executive Officer