Friday, 19th May 2023
Universitat Pompeu Fabra - Campus de la Ciutadella, Barcelona, Spain

On the 19th May, the Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF) hosted the 2023 Presentation of the International Journal of Social Determinants of Health and Health Services (IJSDOHS). The event was a celebration of the journal’s 53-year heritage under its former title, the International Journal of Health Services, and welcomed in a new phase of the journal, which aims to push boundaries in scholarship on how structural injustices, social inequalities and power dynamics impact and shape the health of populations worldwide. It brought together experts in the social determinants of health (SDOH) from across the world to explore and discuss the major questions and future pathways for research, policy and action regarding the SDOH and health services.

The event was chaired by Dr. Guddi Singh, a visiting researcher at the JHU-UPF Public Policy Center. Dr. Josep Lluís Martí, the Commissioner for the UPF’s Planetary Wellbeing project, gave the inaugural speech, welcoming the participants to Barcelona and to the UPF in the name of the university’s Rector, Dr. Laia de Nadal. He celebrated the event and the journal’s new orientation, noting the strong similarities between the approaches of the journal and the UPF Planetary Wellbeing project, both of which strive to be deeply interdisciplinary despite the challenges this entails. He finished by noting the importance of this kind of research and action, especially in the areas of public health and policymaking, and the need for people of all disciplines to collaborate on such important topics.

This introduction was followed by keynote speeches from Profs Joan Benach and Carles Muntaner, the journal’s two Co-Editors-in-Chief. Firstly, Benach stated the urgent need to respond to the multiple global challenges to global health and health equity, and to understand the sociopolitical causes of these challenges. He emphasised the importance of identifying who is responsible for phenomena such as rising health inequalities and ecological destruction, quoting Greta Thunberg and Dr Jason Hickel on power imbalances and injustices in the global economic system. Benach then reflected on the role of scientific journals in working towards solutions to the global threats to health equity and ecological sustainability. He stated, “ is our view that not enough attention is devoted to the ecosocial factors that lead to ill-health, and that when it is done…not enough attention is paid to explaining their political and economic causes and to the potential policies, interventions and evaluations that reduce social inequality.” He also commended the work of the International Journal of Health Services for publishing this kind of critical, systemic scholarship since the 1970s, and stated that the intention of the International Journal of Social Determinants of Health and Health Services is to continue this work, focusing on “the key political, economic, cultural and ecological determinants [of health]…that are driving the fate of humankind.

Muntaner elaborated on some of the key areas that the new journal will focus on and encourage. These include global warming and its impacts on health; geopolitics and issues such as the risk of nuclear war; the mechanisms behind unequal social relations such as domination and exploitation that underlie inequalities relating to class, race, gender, migration and nationality; the imperialism and super-exploitation between the Global North and Global South; philosophy of epistemology and public health; and political solutions for reducing health inequities. Finally, he announced that the journal is committed to giving space to scholarship from the Global South, where there are many powerful movements for social and environmental justice that can be learned from. 

Following these inaugural speeches, the event proceeded with four key roundtable sessions (click on each title for more information on that session): What do the social determinants of health (SDOH) contribute to health equity policies? with Drs. Sir Michael Marmot, Asa Cristina Laurell and Joan Benach; What kind of research is needed in the field of SDOH? with Drs. Megan Reynolds, Jerzy Eisenberg-Guyot, Seth Prins and Carles Muntaner; The neoliberal transformation and financialization of healthcare, with Drs. Chee-Khoon Chan, Allyson Pollock, Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein; and Policies and actions for the reduction of health inequities, with Drs. Nihaya Daoud, Davel Milian Valdés, Bukola Salami and Keshia Pollack Porter. There was also a poster exhibition, featuring 17 posters by local, national and international researchers and practitioners in public health, SDOH and health equity. The digital posters can be seen on the journal’s website for a limited time. 

Dr. Keshia Pollack Porter, Chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (the journal’s sponsor) and Co-Director of the JHU-UPF Public Policy Center, closed the day’s activities with a powerful speech on why the kind of research that had been presented during the event is so important in today’s world. She referred to the US case, where life expectancy in the US declined in 2021 for the first time in years, largely driven by the opioid epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic, and there are large mortality differentials according to race, ethnicity, class, geography and gender. Given these extreme injustices, there is a need for researchers to move beyond descriptive analyses of health inequalities and focus on the causal mechanisms behind them as well as strategies to eliminate them: “We need to continue to place greater emphasis on the social, political and economic contexts in which morbidity and mortality inequalities are produced and reproduced. We need to continue to conduct research as well as engage in knowledge transfer, getting information to decision makers, policymakers and communities who can do something with the evidence.” Pollack Porter also raised the issue of courts and law as important determinants of health. She referred to recent changes in US national and state law that pose direct threats to public health and health equity, such as ruling it legal to carry a hidden firearm in public; making abortion and gender-affirming care illegal; and banning anti-racist and pro-diversity initiatives in education. Whilst recognising these challenges, she closed with a message of hope and encouragement, saying “...hope is an essential part of achieving a strategy, based on what we believe is possible,” and inviting the audience to recognise how far we can come and embrace the possibilities of what more can be accomplished in terms of achieving health equity and social justice. 

The videos of each session are available on the JHU-UPF Public Policy Center’s YouTube channel. The summary video of the event, created by the UPF, is available here.

You can follow the journal’s activities via Twitter: @intj_sdohs