Syndemic vulnerability and the right to health

The Lancet
Mar 04, 2017 Volume 389 Number 10072 p881-982 e3

Syndemic vulnerability and the right to health
Sarah S Willen, Michael Knipper, César E Abadía-Barrero, Nadav Davidovitch
Investigators working both in syndemics, a field of applied health research with roots in medical anthropology, and in the field of health and human rights recognise that upstream social, political, and structural determinants contribute more to health inequities than do biological factors or personal choices. Syndemics investigates synergistic, often deleterious interactions among comorbid health conditions, especially under circumstances of structural and political adversity. Health and human rights research draws on international law to argue that all people deserve access not only to health care, but also to the underlying determinants of good health. Taking the urgent matter of migrant health as an empirical focus, we juxtapose the fields of syndemics and health and human rights, identify their complementarities, and advocate for a combined approach. By melding insights from these fields, the combined syndemics/health and human rights approach advanced here can provide clinicians and other key stakeholders with concrete insights, tools, and strategies to tackle the health inequities that affect migrants and other vulnerable groups by: (1) mapping the effect of social, political, and structural determinants on health; (2) identifying opportunities for upstream intervention; and (3) working collaboratively to tackle the structures, institutions, and processes that cause and exacerbate health inequities. Undergirding this approach is an egalitarian interpretation of the right to health that differs from narrow legalistic and individual interpretations by insisting that all people are equal in worth and, as a result, equally deserving of protection from syndemic vulnerability.