Tackling the social roots of health inequities

May 22, 2006

"Throughout the world, people who are vulnerable and socially disadvantaged have less access to health resources, get sicker, and die earlier than people in more privileged social positions," say Alec Irwin and colleagues from the World Health Organization (WHO). Ministries of health, they say, cannot transform social conditions single-handedly, but the health sector can take the lead in advancing an approach to health policy that incorporates actions on the social determinants of health across government departments and wider society. Irwin and colleagues discuss why the WHO has created the Commission on Social Determinants of Health, which aims to strengthen health equity by "catalyzing policy and institutional change to address the social determinants of health within countries, among institutions working in global health, and within WHO itself."

Citation: Irwin A, Valentine N, Brown C, Loewenson R, Solar O, et al. (2006) The Commission on Social Determinants of Health: Tackling the social roots of health inequities. PLoS Med 3(6): e106.

PLEASE ADD THE LINK TO THE PUBLISHED ARTICLE IN ONLINE VERSIONS OF YOUR REPORT: http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030106

PRESS-ONLY PREVIEW OF THE ARTICLE: http://www.plos.org/press/plme-03-06-irwin.pdf

CONTACT: Alex Irwin
World Health Organization
Department of Equity, Poverty, and Social Determinants of Health
Geneva, CH-1211, Switzerland
+41 22 791 49 09
irwina@who.int

The Limits of Reductionism in Medicine: Does Systems Biology Offer an Alternative?

"Reductionism pervades the medical sciences and affects the way we diagnose, treat, and prevent diseases," say Andrew Ahn (Harvard Medical School) and colleagues. While reductionism--the idea that complex problems are solvable by dividing them into smaller, simpler units--has been responsible for tremendous successes in modern medicine, say the authors, there are limits to reductionism, and an alternative explanation must be sought to complement it.

An alternative approach that has received much recent attention, they say, is the systems perspective, exemplified by systems biology. "Rather than dividing a complex problem into its component parts," say the authors, "the systems perspective appreciates the holistic and composite characteristics of a problem and evaluates the problem with the use of computational and mathematical tools. The systems perspective is rooted in the assumption that the forest cannot be explained by studying the trees individually." In two linked articles in PLoS Medicine, Ahn and colleagues examine how a systems approach could be valuable for clinical medicine.

Citation: Ahn AC, Tewari M, Poon CS, Phillips RS (2006) The limits of reductionism in medicine: Could systems biology offer an alternative? PLoS Med 3(6): e208.

PLEASE ADD THE LINK TO THE PUBLISHED ARTICLE IN ONLINE VERSIONS OF YOUR REPORT: http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030208

PRESS-ONLY PREVIEW OF THE ARTICLE: http://www.plos.org/press/plme-03-06-ahn.pdf

Related PLoS Medicine Essay:

Citation: Ahn AC, Tewari M, Poon CS, Phillips RS (2006) The clinical applications of a systems approach. PLoS Med 3(7): e209.

PLEASE ADD THE LINK TO THE PUBLISHED ARTICLE IN ONLINE VERSIONS OF YOUR REPORT: http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030209

PRESS-ONLY PREVIEW OF THE ARTICLE: http://www.plos.org/press/plme-03-07-ahn.pdf

CONTACT: Andrew Ahn
Harvard Medical School
Division for Research and Education in Complementary and Integrative Medical Therapies
401 Park Drive Suite 22A-West
Boston, MA 02215, United States of America
+1-617-632-0335
+1-617-632-0215 (fax)
aahn@hms.harvard.edu
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