Sociological Explanations for Apparent Health Inequalities in Society

In the early years of the twenty first century, with so much evolution in sociological thought having already taken place, no scholar can dismiss theories concerning health inequalities in society.  All societies of past and present exhibited fissures in terms of class, gender, age groups, etc.  Sociologists have discovered valid correlations between these social parameters and indicators of wellbeing.  In this respect, all four prominent sociological approaches to studying health and wellbeing offer their own insights and inputs about the correlations.  In other words, the Social Constructionist/Artefact approach, the Social/Natural Selection approach, Cultural/Behavioural approach and the Materialist/Structuralist approach offer different perspectives on health inequalities in past and present societies.

The Biomedical model of health preceded modern sociological health paradigm, where freedom from disease, pain or defect is the core focus.  The physician typically inspects the patient ‘after’ the onset of an ailment and studies the pathology of disease, physiological mechanisms at play, as well as the biochemical processes.  Under the biomedical model, the emphasis is on ‘cure’ and ‘healing’ through scientific application of medical principles as and when a medical condition presents itself. While this goal is perfectly legitimate, the critics of the Biomedical model point out its narrow focus, which largely leaves aside the social, economic and psychological factors that often precede and determine the health of an individual. (Wyman, 2000, p.77)  It is due to this lack of wholeness in this model of health, that scholars and thinkers have devised other wholesome perspectives. They have added newer dimensions to the study of human health, and the result is the invention of sociological analytic frameworks for studying people’s health. The dominant discourse of the social determinants of health paradigm

“assumes a socio-environmental approach to health primarily ‘concerned with risk conditions rather than risk factors’. These conditions include poverty; income, gender, racial, and sexual inequality; stressful environments; housing and living conditions; education and early child care; food security; employment and working conditions; social inclusion and exclusion; and globalization. Efforts to attend to health inequities by anyone working under this paradigm would, therefore, address some or all of these issues.” (Ashcroft, 2010, p.251)

Social determinants of health such as geographical location, gender, age, ethnic origin, education level, governance and socioeconomic status are all factors that contribute to an individual’s health status.  Statistics from World Health Report 2001 supports the veracity of these connections.  For example, developing nations continue to lag behind in standard of living parameters.  Even as globalization has enabled technology aided interconnectivity, hundreds of thousands of people are still living under hostile health conditions (Taylor, 2002, p.25).  While the rich nations are getting richer, complete swathes of sub-Saharan people still confront poverty, hunger, illiteracy and threat of infectious disease on a day to day basis.  The biggest threat to people in this particular region is HIV/AIDS, an ailment that consumes a million lives every six months in Africa, with sub-Saharan African nations bearing the brunt of this epidemic.  This region, according to statistics released by Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, is home to seventy percent of people infected with HIV worldwide.  Such numbers betray the socio-political realities of the region, with its attendant failure to invest in public health projects (Kazatchkine, 2007, p.77).  They also clearly indicate the validity of sociological explanations for health inequalities.

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