Healthcare rights have always varied across countries and continents as well as among various demographics of any population. Many groups remain underrepresented or discriminated against in their access to care in the United States and countries all over the world. With a new presidential administration in the U.S., however, healthcare accessibility is set to shift again.
Veterans, LGBTQ+, minorities, and those struggling with economic insecurity have all disproportionally faced histories of poor access to care. Even in countries where the rights of these citizens are protected, discrimination restricts healthcare solutions.
As we move into 2021 and beyond, it is necessary to examine these inequalities in healthcare representation and compare the efforts of countries to combat them. Where do the inequalities lie, and how can we stop them?
The Lack of Care Equity
The COVID-19 crisis has illustrated healthcare discrepancies in stark relief. Around the world, everything from efforts to stop the spread to rates of infection varies in great numbers. In Cambodia, for example, an incredible lack of severe COVID cases begs questions about genetic factors and care solutions.
But for many groups, the question is not one of biology but of equity. In the U.S., 56% of lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals and 70% of transgender people report having experienced discrimination in attempting to access healthcare. These numbers highlight the disparities in care and the need for additional resources for at-risk groups that include LGBTQ+, seniors, veterans, and many more.
Many countries throughout the world still criminalize same-sex partnerships. This makes receiving specialized and relevant care immensely difficult for millions in places like Senegal, Russia, and the Middle East where varying degrees of law-enforced prejudice pervade. But as globalization unites our media sources, the calls for better protections in healthcare as an international right are growing stronger.
Already, U.S. President Joe Biden has overturned Donald Trump’s ban on transgender Americans serving in the military, a ban originally instituted because of the “tremendous medical costs and disruption” that Trump felt accompanied transgender military service.
This is a sign of things to come for world healthcare rights in 2021 and beyond, as coalitions of progressive movements and activist work comes together for broader care.
Securing Health Rights
America returning to the global stage of health issues via its rejoining of the World Health Organization (WHO) is in itself a significant event in international healthcare rights. The coronavirus continues to deal out death and suffering, disproportionately affecting ethnic minorities and those in lower-income brackets. With the aid of the U.S., world leaders have a better chance of combatting the virus and turning their attention to other pressing healthcare needs that have long devastated underrepresented groups.
Speaking to the WHO’s Executive Board, Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Biden, expressed a commitment on the part of the U.S. to fight world health challenges from HIV/AIDS to food insecurity.
“It will be our policy to support women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights in the United States, as well as globally,” said Fauci.
While at this point these are only words, they illustrate the importance of Biden’s win and what it means for the world. The backsliding in recognition and equality of healthcare that occurred during the Trump administration, for example, echoed in other global sentiments. Boris Johnson’s administration in the U.K. reportedly dropped plans to allow trans individuals to change their legal gender without a medical diagnosis. Meanwhile, negative health and well-being outcomes for women due to injustices in Saudi Arabia have gone largely ignored.
World powers that put the importance of healthcare for all at the forefront of their agendas can have significant consequences in the care of all kinds of underrepresented groups. Veterans, for example, face continued risks ranging from exposure to asbestos to mental health challenges like PTSD. International commitments to combat these healthcare inequalities can make a real difference — but it will take active global partners in a post-COVID world.
Improving Care Equity
Without first overcoming the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, progress in generating more equitable care solutions for all will be all but impossible. COVID itself challenges minority communities at disproportionate rates, showcasing the interlocking challenges of institutional prejudice and inequalities reinforced over centuries.
2021 could see the formation of powerful coalitions in the fight for healthcare equality, spawned by the fight against COVID. With the U.S. back in the WHO, additional funding and labor can be provided to fight all kinds of healthcare disparities, both with the U.S. and far beyond, first through the eradication of COVID-19 and then on to other life-threatening illnesses.
As political change fosters a more unified global vision of healthcare policies, previously underrepresented groups have the most to gain. There is still much work to be done, however. Women, minorities, LGBTQ+ individuals, and disenfranchised groups the world over face massive disparities in care that will take time to alter. Let’s make 2021 a major stepping stone in achieving this progress.