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Working together to reduce poverty's damage

BMJ 1997; 314 doi: (Published 22 February 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;314:529

Doctors fought nuclear weapons, now they can fight poverty

  1. Andrew Haines, Professor of primary health carea,
  2. Richard Smith, Editorb
  1. a Joint Department of Primary Care and Population Sciences, Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine and University College London Medical School, London NW3 2 PF
  2. b BMJ, London WC1H 9JR

    Next week the Royal Colleges of General Practitioners, Nursing, and Physicians, the Faculty of Public Health Medicine, Action in International Medicine (an organisation of colleges and academies of health professionals with member institutions in 30 countries), and the BMJ will hold a conference on poverty and health. The conference will be part of worldwide professional activity to reduce the harmful effects of poverty. This week the BMJ publishes its fourth issue in two years that has clustered papers on inequalities in health. Why all the fuss?

    Some suggest that it's because the BMJ is politically motivated. If that means the BMJ wants action on a major threat to health, it's true. We would like all political parties in all countries to pay attention to inequalities in health. Many are reluctant to do so. They are more concerned to cut taxes and so win the votes of what the economist J K Galbraith calls the comfortable majority.1

    We are publishing these special issues of the journal for four main reasons. Firstly, anybody interested in health has to pay attention to wealth. It's the single most important driver of health worldwide, even more important than smoking. Secondly, a great deal of research is under way into inequalities in health. It affects every part of medicine. We are beginning to understand that, for developed countries, relative poverty (having an income substantially below the mean for that society) is a more important influence on health than absolute poverty (lacking the basic means to live). 2 3 And this research is leading to important discoveries on how social pressures lead to disease outcomes.2 The BMJ receives many papers on inequalities in health, and many of them make it through our peer review process. It seems sensible to cluster them.

    Thirdly, things are getting …

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