This was the question that I posed on Facebook to my friends, many of whom happen to be students or graduates of public health programs. I wanted to know what they knew (well, really what they didn’t know) about health justice. What did they have to say? Very little. My question only elicited two responses. From what was written, I could tell that their understanding of health justice wasn’t crystal clear. I took the silence from everyone else in two ways: 1) They didn’t see my status update (unlikely because almost everyone checks Facebook on a daily basis), or 2) They didn’t know how to define health justice (likely because the phrase is fairly new and is not, from my experience, being used in the classroom).
I wasn’t surprised by the poor response rate because before I began working as the program intern at the Connecticut Health Foundation (CT Health), I had never heard the phrase health justice used. Now that I have been with CT Health for about a year, I have a good understanding of health justice. The concept of health justice is not new but I think the phrase is emerging. At a basic level, health justice is about achieving equity in health care for everyone. Put differently, health justice is about eliminating disparities in health outcomes that arise from socio-ecological factors such as income, education, and race. Eliminating health disparities is a much more familiar concept to many people than is health justice. I’m sure that if I had asked the question “Do you know what health disparities are?” to my Facebook friends, I would have received several more replies. Therefore, the question becomes whether or not health justice adequately conveys this meaning. I argue that it does. The essence of health justice is reflected in its name. Justice is about achieving equity and fairness. Adding the word health to justice only changes the meaning to refer to achieving equity and fairness in health. Plus, justice is one ideal that many people believe in.
I think the key to having people understand health justice is not by changing the expression we use, but by educating them about health justice. Ultimately, I think health justice will resonate with most people. I predict that health justice will catch on and it will be the phrase used in academia, the health care industry, and the media to describe eliminating inequities in health outcomes. So I ask the question again: Do you know what health justice is? Please leave your comments below.