Advocacy for Health Equity: A Synthesis Review
- Many barriers hamper advocacy for health equity, including the contemporary economic zeitgeist, the biomedical health perspective, and difficulties cooperating across policy sectors on the issue.
- Effective advocacy should include persistent efforts to raise awareness and understanding of the social determinants of health. Education on the social determinants as part of medical training should be encouraged, including professional training within disadvantaged communities.
- Advocacy organizations have a central role in advocating for health equity given the challenges bridging the worlds of civil society, research, and policy.
Context: Health inequalities are systematic differences in health among social groups that are caused by unequal exposure to—and distributions of—the social determinants of health (SDH). They are persistent between and within countries despite action to reduce them. Advocacy is a means of promoting policies that improve health equity, but the literature on how to do so effectively is dispersed. The aim of this review is to synthesize the evidence in the academic and gray literature and to provide a body of knowledge for advocates to draw on to inform their efforts.
Methods: This article is a systematic review of the academic literature and a fixed-length systematic search of the gray literature. After applying our inclusion criteria, we analyzed our findings according to our predefined dimensions of advocacy for health equity. Last, we synthesized our findings and made a critical appraisal of the literature.
Findings: The policy world is complex, and scientific evidence is unlikely to be conclusive in making decisions. Timely qualitative, interdisciplinary, and mixed-methods research may be valuable in advocacy efforts. The potential impact of evidence can be increased by “packaging” it as part of knowledge transfer and translation. Increased contact between researchers and policymakers could improve the uptake of research in policy processes. Researchers can play a role in advocacy efforts, although health professionals and disadvantaged people, who have direct contact with or experience of hardship, can be particularly persuasive in advocacy efforts. Different types of advocacy messages can accompany evidence, but messages should be tailored to advocacy target. Several barriers hamper advocacy efforts. The most frequently cited in the academic literature are the current political and economic zeitgeist and related public opinion, which tend to blame disadvantaged people for their ill health, even though biomedical approaches to health and political short-termism also act as barriers. These barriers could be tackled through long-term actions to raise public awareness and understanding of the SDH and through training of health professionals in advocacy. Advocates need to take advantage of “windows of opportunity,” which open and close quickly, and demonstrate expertise and credibility.
Conclusions: This article brings together for the first time evidence from the academic and the gray literature and provides a building block for efforts to advocate for health equity. Evidence regarding many of the dimensions is scant, and additional research is merited, particularly concerning the applicability of findings outside the English-speaking world. Advocacy organizations have a central role in advocating for health equity, given the challenges bridging the worlds of civil society, research, and policy.
Author(s): Linden Farrer, Claudia Marinetti, Yoline Kuipers Cavaco, and Caroline Costongs
Keywords: social determinants of health, consumer advocacy, evidence-based policy, vulnerable populations
Volume 93, Issue 2 (pages 392–437)
Published in 2015