Representatives from more than 100 governments around the world, health experts, civil society organizations and other stakeholders are converging in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for three days to discuss how social, economic and environmental conditions could be improved to reduce the health gaps within and between countries.



The World Conference on Social Determinants of Health – convened by the WHO and hosted by the Government of Brazil – will give governments and stakeholders a forum to discuss necessary steps to tackle the root causes of health inequities. It is expected to be attended by 60 ministers of health.

Pressure to reduce social inequalities

The conference is taking place amidst mounting pressure on governments to reduce social inequalities, which have further widened as a result of the global financial crisis.

"The differences, within and between countries, in income levels, in opportunities, in health status, and in access to care are greater today than at any time in recent history," says Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the WHO. "A world that is greatly out of balance in matters of health is neither stable nor secure."

Alarming health gaps

At present, the life expectancy gap between countries is 36 years and there is ample evidence that in all countries of the world - whether low, middle or high-income - an individual's health status is largely determined by his socio-economic position. With the right mix of government policies, and through coordinated action on the local, national and international levels, the existing gaps could be narrowed.

Many countries are taking action to reduce socially-determined health gaps but not enough is being done. In the context of the global financial crisis, increasing food insecurity, and the challenges of climate change, new strategic approaches will be needed to address the determinants of ill health.

On Friday, at the end of the conference, governments are likely to endorse a Rio Political Declaration on Social Determinants of Health outlining their agreements and pledges to improve the broader social conditions that affect people's health.