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      The COVID-19 pandemic and health inequalities


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          This essay examines the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for health inequalities. It outlines historical and contemporary evidence of inequalities in pandemics—drawing on international research into the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918, the H1N1 outbreak of 2009 and the emerging international estimates of socio-economic, ethnic and geographical inequalities in COVID-19 infection and mortality rates. It then examines how these inequalities in COVID-19 are related to existing inequalities in chronic diseases and the social determinants of health, arguing that we are experiencing a syndemic pandemic. It then explores the potential consequences for health inequalities of the lockdown measures implemented internationally as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, focusing on the likely unequal impacts of the economic crisis. The essay concludes by reflecting on the longer-term public health policy responses needed to ensure that the COVID-19 pandemic does not increase health inequalities for future generations.

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          Estimation of potential global pandemic influenza mortality on the basis of vital registry data from the 1918-20 pandemic: a quantitative analysis.

          The threat of an avian influenza pandemic is causing widespread public concern and health policy response, especially in high-income countries. Our aim was to use high-quality vital registration data gathered during the 1918-20 pandemic to estimate global mortality should such a pandemic occur today. We identified all countries with high-quality vital registration data for the 1918-20 pandemic and used these data to calculate excess mortality. We developed ordinary least squares regression models that related excess mortality to per-head income and absolute latitude and used these models to estimate mortality had there been an influenza pandemic in 2004. Excess mortality data show that, even in 1918-20, population mortality varied over 30-fold across countries. Per-head income explained a large fraction of this variation in mortality. Extrapolation of 1918-20 mortality rates to the worldwide population of 2004 indicates that an estimated 62 million people (10th-90th percentile range 51 million-81 million) would be killed by a similar influenza pandemic; 96% (95% CI 95-98) of these deaths would occur in the developing world. If this mortality were concentrated in a single year, it would increase global mortality by 114%. This analysis of the empirical record of the 1918-20 pandemic provides a plausible upper bound on pandemic mortality. Most deaths will occur in poor countries--ie, in societies whose scarce health resources are already stretched by existing health priorities.
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            How could differences in 'control over destiny' lead to socio-economic inequalities in health? A synthesis of theories and pathways in the living environment.

            We conducted the first synthesis of theories on causal associations and pathways connecting degree of control in the living environment to socio-economic inequalities in health-related outcomes. We identified the main theories about how differences in 'control over destiny' could lead to socio-economic inequalities in health, and conceptualised these at three distinct explanatory levels: micro/personal; meso/community; and macro/societal. These levels are interrelated but have rarely been considered together in the disparate literatures in which they are located. This synthesis of theories provides new conceptual frameworks to contribute to the design and conduct of theory-led evaluations of actions to tackle inequalities in health.
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              Disparities in influenza mortality and transmission related to sociodemographic factors within Chicago in the pandemic of 1918

              The pervasiveness of influenza among humans and its rapid spread during pandemics create a false sense that all humans are affected equally. In this work, we show that neighborhood-level social determinants were associated with greater burdens of pandemic influenza in 1918 and several other diseases in a major US city. We show that literacy, homeownership, and unemployment were associated with cumulative influenza mortality as well as measures of the speed of transmission using a unique dataset describing the home location and week of death of individuals who died during the influenza pandemic in 1918. Our results suggest that, similar to other infectious diseases, social disparities should be a focus of research and public health response in future pandemics. Social factors have been shown to create differential burden of influenza across different geographic areas. We explored the relationship between potential aggregate-level social determinants and mortality during the 1918 influenza pandemic in Chicago using a historical dataset of 7,971 influenza and pneumonia deaths. Census tract-level social factors, including rates of illiteracy, homeownership, population, and unemployment, were assessed as predictors of pandemic mortality in Chicago. Poisson models fit with generalized estimating equations (GEEs) were used to estimate the association between social factors and the risk of influenza and pneumonia mortality. The Poisson model showed that influenza and pneumonia mortality increased, on average, by 32.2% for every 10% increase in illiteracy rate adjusted for population density, homeownership, unemployment, and age. We also found a significant association between transmissibility and population density, illiteracy, and unemployment but not homeownership. Lastly, analysis of the point locations of reported influenza and pneumonia deaths revealed fine-scale spatiotemporal clustering. This study shows that living in census tracts with higher illiteracy rates increased the risk of influenza and pneumonia mortality during the 1918 influenza pandemic in Chicago. Our observation that disparities in structural determinants of neighborhood-level health lead to disparities in influenza incidence in this pandemic suggests that disparities and their determinants should remain targets of research and control in future pandemics.

                Author and article information

                J Epidemiol Community Health
                J Epidemiol Community Health
                Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health
                BMJ Publishing Group (BMA House, Tavistock Square, London, WC1H 9JR )
                June 2020
                12 June 2020
                : jech-2020-214401
                [1 ]departmentPopulation Health Sciences Institute, Newcastle University Institute for Health and Society , Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
                [2 ]departmentSchool of Clinical Medicine, Cambridge University , Cambridge, UK
                Author notes
                Correspondence to Clare Bambra, Population Health Sciences Institute, Faculty of Medical Sciences, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 4LP, UK; clare.bambra@ 123456newcastle.ac.uk
                Author information
                © Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2020. No commercial re-use. See rights and permissions. Published by BMJ.

                This article is made freely available for use in accordance with BMJ's website terms and conditions for the duration of the covid-19 pandemic or until otherwise determined by BMJ. You may use, download and print the article for any lawful, non-commercial purpose (including text and data mining) provided that all copyright notices and trade marks are retained.

                : 27 April 2020
                : 18 May 2020
                Custom metadata

                Public health
                deprivation,health inequalities,employment,gender,geography
                Public health
                deprivation, health inequalities, employment, gender, geography


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