Every year on April 7, World Health Day is celebrated globally. This year’s theme is ‘Building a fairer, healthier world for everyone’; a call-to-action to eliminate existing health inequities worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) World Health Day campaign began in 1948, taking effect in 1950, to raise awareness of global health issues of concern that must be prioritized. This year’s campaign connects to the WHO’s constitutional principle that “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.”
Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic shone a light on many pre-existing health inequities in Ontario that have been overlooked for decades. Communities that were already suffering from issues such as lack of access to clean water, poverty, food insecurity, job precarity, and lack of affordable housing – to name only a few – were hit the hardest during this pandemic. These communities largely consist of women, Black, Indigenous and racialized people.
In many of Ontario’s workplaces where COVID-19 outbreaks have taken place, the workers affected are often low-wage, precariously employed people who don’t have access to paid sick leave. They are risking their lives every day to make ends meet. That risk is increased when they have to weigh the decision to get tested, vaccinated or stay at home when they’re sick with the possibility of having their pay cheque reduced.
As we proceed with the vaccine rollout, we must call on Ontario’s leaders to prioritize those who are at highest risk socially and economically. And, as we rebuild and recover from this pandemic, we must look at the root causes of health inequities to find solutions. All Ontarians deserve to have living and working conditions that support their health and well-being.
We all have a part to play in building a fairer, healthier world for everyone. This pandemic has taught us many lessons and showed us where we can do better. By working together and fighting for the rights of our vulnerable communities, we can make sure that we rebuild a fairer, healthier Ontario.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas, OPSEU/SEFPO President
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida, OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer