What is a “medically underserved community”?

Half of the world’s population does not have access to essential health services, according to the World Bank and the World Health Organization. What seems normal to people in developed countries healthcare-wise, can be very difficult to obtain elsewhere. People in rural areas do not have access to basic healthcare, which categorizes them as a medically underserved community. This can be because they live too far away from a healthcare center or other reasons.

In this article, we will review the health challenges that people living in developed countries face; focusing on the role of poverty. Here is a list of the contents involved:

  1. What is a medically underserved community or population?
  2. Understanding poverty and low-income status
  3. What are the health challenges that people living in poverty face?
  4. How can Connect Health help you?

1. What is a medically underserved community or population?

medically underserved community

Medically underserved communities, also known as MUAs, are geographic areas with a lack of access to basic primary care services. This designation helps establish community health centers or health maintenance organizations.

Medically underserved populations have a shortage of basic healthcare services within geographic areas; such as a whole country, a state, and a county or a group of neighboring counties, among others.

A medically underserved community has a shortage of primary healthcare services for a specific population subset within a geographic area. These groups might face cultural, economic, or language barriers to health care. Some examples include:

  • People experiencing homelessness.
  • Farmworkers and people living in rural areas.
  • People who are low-income.
  • People living in underdeveloped countries with deficient public health care.

2. Understanding poverty and low-income status

Poverty occurs when a family or an individual lacks the economic resources to provide the primary life necessities; such as clean water, food, electricity, shelter, and clothing. It also includes a lack of access to basic resources such as education, health care, and transportation.

For instance, in the United States, federal poverty is expressed as an annual salary level of $12,760 for an individual younger than 65 years or $26,200 for a family of four. Worldwide, the term poverty is assigned to people living under $30 a day. Statistically, most of the world population lives in poverty (85%)

Low-income status and poverty are correlated with various adverse health outcomes; including higher infant mortality rates, shorter life expectancy, and higher death rates for the 13 leading causes of death. For individuals, poverty limits the resources used to avoid health risks and adopt healthy behaviors. Poverty also affects the built environment, culture, services, and communities’ reputation, all of which have individual effects on health outcomes.

Location matters a lot. In Africa for example, diseases that can be easily treated with proper healthcare services such as tuberculosis, malaria, AIDS, and diarrheal diseases are one of the most common causes of death. There are also dramatic differences in health care services between communities that are only a few miles apart.

For instance, in the US, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found a 25,3-year difference in average life expectancy in Los Angeles, between suburban neighborhoods and the inner city. Similarly, there is a 15-year difference in average life expectancy between two Kansas neighborhoods that are just 3 miles apart.

2.1 Poverty and health

SDoH (Social Determinants of Health) are the conditions in the environment under which people are born, grow, work, live, and age. Including factors such as education, socioeconomic status, social support networks, employment, and neighborhood characteristics. Surprisingly, these social factors have a higher collective impact on the health of a person and their health outcomes than health care, health behavior, and even the physical environment. SDoH, especially discrimination, poverty, and structural racism are the primary drivers of health inequities.

Economic prosperity can provide access to resources to avoid exposure to health risks too. Additionally, Connect Health‘s research shows that individuals with higher incomes (Top 10%) consistently experience better health outcomes than people living with low incomes or in poverty. Poverty affects health by limiting access to:

  • Shelter.
  • Proper nutrition.
  • Safe neighborhoods.
  • Utilities.
  • Clean air and water, and other factors that define an individual’s standard of living.

Individuals who live in high poverty or low-income neighborhoods are more likely to experience poor health due to a combination of these factors.

Violence and crime are also more prevalent in communities with greater poverty. Individuals in households below or at the poverty level experienced more than double the rate of crime and violent victimization than individuals in average or high-income households. This pattern of victimization by crime and violent behavior was consistent for both white and black individuals.

Poverty also affects individuals insidiously in other ways that we are just starting to understand. Mental illness, substance use disorders, and chronic illness are all more prevalent in populations with low income. Toxic exposures, poor nutrition, and elevated levels of stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) are factors associated with poverty. These factors can have lasting effects on children starting before birth and continuing after birth. Plus, these effects can influence chronic disease and cognitive development.

2.2 Risk regulators and intervention

Poverty affects health in different ways through complex mechanisms that we just previously described. However, living in poverty does not necessarily predetermine poor health. Poverty will not cause disease by itself. Instead, poverty affects the likelihood that a person will have risk factors for disease and the ability to prevent, manage and recover from the disease.

An individual’s health outcomes ultimately will be determined by environmental and genetic factors, as well as health behaviors, all of which can be affected by poverty. Policies, laws, and regulations associated with poverty make it a risk regulator. As well as:

  • Material conditions.
  • Neighborhood conditions.
  • Discriminatory practices.
  • Work conditions.
  • Behavioral norms.

This means that poverty acts as a control parameter that influences the probability of exposure to important risk factors that lead to disease.

Thinking of poverty as a risk regulator rather than a determinant of health allows healthcare professionals to relinquish the feeling of helplessness when providing medical assistance to a medically underserved community.

People working in healthcare jobs are uniquely positioned to find solutions to mitigate the development of risk factors that lead to disease and unique conditions in medically underserved populations. They can boost communities’ resistance to the health effects of poverty and use resources efficiently to provide patients and families with solutions that lead to their health maintenance.

3. What are the health challenges that people living in poverty face?

medically underserved community

3.1 Vaccines

Even though the healthcare industry is developing new vaccines every year, for millions of infants, vaccines that already exist are out of reach. Last year, nearly 20 million children, primarily in underdeveloped nations, did not receive routine vaccinations, according to the World Health Organization. Furthermore, in lower-income countries, there are still more than 10 million children who have not received even a single vaccination.

Some of the factors that may interfere with vaccination delivery are lack of investment in national immunization programs, conflict, and disease outbreaks, according to UNICEF. Vaccines currently prevent 3 million deaths every year, according to the WHO, but vaccine-preventable diseases are still causing devastation. In 2018, for example, an outbreak of measles killed over 150,000 people, mostly children under 5 years in Kenia. We recommend that you read our article about saving the healthcare indsutry.

3.2 Medication

Over 6 million people died last year from antibiotic-treatable diseases, according to UNICEF, with the vast majority of these in low-income countries. To see the extension of the problem, worldwide, nearly 3 billion people cannot get access to basic medications, according to a report from the WHO.

For example, in Africa, the prevalence of tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV-related illnesses, all of which are medically treatable, threatens health and livelihoods as we previously mentioned.

Organizations like the Global Fund are trying to fight AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis by expanding access to treatment options for people living in a medically underserved community, but major financing gaps persist.

3.3 Clean water and sanitation

3.4 billion people worldwide do not have access to basic hand-washing facilities with clean water and soap at home, according to UNICEF. There is an estimation that 1 in 6 healthcare facilities around the world does not have functional toilets and hand-washing services.

Beyond hand-washing, over half of the global population, 4.1 billion people, do not even have safe sanitation, forcing people to defecate in the open. Globally, 2.2 billion people do not have reliable access to clean drinking water, and 2 billion people drink water contaminated with feces, according to the WHO.

Insects that live and breed in water can also contaminate it. Water contaminated by insects can cause diseases such as hepatitis A, diarrhea, dysentery, and polio. Ensuring everyone across the globe had access to safe sanitation areas and clean water would dramatically improve global health.

3.4 Lack of electricity

1 in 10 people worldwide, which is nearly 800 million, still lack access to electricity, which makes it extremely hard to receive proper health care.  Rural healthcare facilities struggle to provide adequate health care in rural villages around the world for this reason. Simple tasks like delivering babies or emergencies at night, storing vaccines and medicines, or even using common medical equipment becomes a challenge.

3.5 Crowded living conditions

Social distancing has entered the public eye as people stay in their homes in order to not get COVID-19. Yet being able to properly practice social distancing is a luxury in underdeveloped countries. Over 1 billion people across the world live in urban slum environments where housing is poor, according to the ONU.

Even before the pandemic, such places have had a bigger negative impact on the health of residents. Diseases such as giardiasis, amoebiasis, varicella, psittacosis, and taeniasis, among others, prevail in crowded environments.

3.6 Lack of doctors

Over 45% of WHO member nations have fewer than 10 doctors for every 10,000 people. Also, over 25% have fewer than 3 doctors for every 10,000 people, according to the WHO. That is compared to over 42 doctors per 10,000 people in Germany, for example, and over 26 doctors per 10,000 people in the US.

Africa struggles disproportionately in this regard; with more than 23% of the world’s disease burden but only 3% of its healthcare professionals.

One cause of this is what is referred to as “medical brain drain”. The term refers to the fact that doctors living in underdeveloped countries, once graduated, usually emigrate to occupy healthcare jobs in wealthy countries, particularly in the UK and US, for reasons such as higher-quality living conditions and greater economic.

3.7 Lack of health care facilities

For people living in a medically underserved community, even just physically accessing healthcare facilities can be complicated. A report found that more than half of the people living in rural communities do not have healthcare access.

This situation is especially pronounced in Africa, where 84% of people living in rural areas do not have access to healthcare. Yet health inequalities exist between urban and rural areas in lots of countries globally, even in the UK or US.

To combat this problem, researchers have found an inverse correlation between the time it takes to travel to healthcare facilities and the standard of health care in a medically underserved community, according to the Harvard Health Policy Review. For instance, studies in Ghana reported that reducing the distance between rural communities and healthcare facilities by half caused the use of medical services to double.

4. How can Connect Health help you?

Here on Connect Health, we help employers get in contact with healthcare professionals who are looking for their expertise in the UAE.

If you are a healthcare manager looking to find an employee, you can post a job vacancy on our webpage. You can also find the ideal candidate for your organization in our vast database of healthcare workers.

On the other side, if you are looking for a healthcare job, feel free to apply for any of the current listings available on our webpage. Make sure to read the job requirements before applying.

If you want to speak to one of our representatives, you can contact us at +971 433 166 88. Alternately, you can write to us at info@connecthealth.ae. We will reach out to you quickly.

Do you also want to try finding job opportunities on other platflorms? Go on thetalentpoint.com and explore job vancancies in other areas and sectors. You can also send your CV to contact@thetalentpoint.com to let us help you find your ideal job!

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