Ethnicity refers to the cultural practices and outlooks of a given community of people which distinguishes them from others. Some scholars have taken the examples of cultural and behavioural instances to explain ethnic health patterning. These are often linked to religious or cultural beliefs such as diet and cooking habits or consanguinity. Critics argue that cultural explanations fail to grasp the real problems facing minorities in the industrialized societies. This reflects the structural inequalities, racism and discrimination encountered in healthcare systems.
The Ethnic Patterning of Health
The socially structured explanations for ethnic patterning in health in many European societies focus on the context in which African-Caribbeans and Asians live. These groups are often faced with multiple disadvantages which are injuries to their health. The reasons can be poverty, overcrowded housing conditions, high rates of unemployment and involvement in hazardous low paying jobs. Such material factors are multiplied by racism either experienced directly in the form of violence, threats or ‘institutionalized’ discrimination. Institutional racism has been noted in the provision of healthcare (Alexander 1999). Language barriers can attract difficulties if information is not communicated properly and culturally specific understandings of illness and treatment are often not considered by professionals in the health sectors.
The cases of genetic predispositions vary in terms of race and ethnicity. But it is important to point out that for many of the chronic diseases of aging, assumptions about genetic explanations for race differences, for example with hypertension, have not been proven. The non-biological explanations for the prevalence of many chronic diseases include the stress factors caused by the lifelong effect of discrimination. The global outcomes of morality and disability have been assessed in connection to race, ethnicity and socio-economic status. But all studies don’t necessarily prove that specific diseases within ethnic communities are caused by socio-economic inequalities. The studies on aging have also found that race was not a predictor of incident disability.
Role of Policies to tackle discrimination
Evidences suggest that the blacks and other ethnic minorities have worse health outcomes in many areas of UK. This is due to the poor socio-economic conditions of the ethnic groups. Though the government policies tried to eliminate the health inequalities they consistently didn’t focus on ethnicity. There is the implementation of the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000 in April 2001, a statutory duty laid upon the National Health Service (NHS) and other public service agencies to ‘have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination’ and to ensure that every new policy considers the implications for racial equality. Since 1996 the NHS has expected that all hospital trusts would record data relating to the ethnic origin of all ‘admitted patients’. But Dr. Lowth and Professor Jackson in their study of “Ethnicity and Health” suggest that although there has been an increase in the collection of data but the levels of completion remain low. This could be due to the prevailing sensitivity on the part of healthcare workers and also the reason that information collected may be insufficient for clinical care and health service planning purposes.