Health Policy and Planning
Volume 27 Issue 6 September 2012
Supriya Kumar and Sandra C Quinn
Existing health inequalities in India: informing preparedness planning for an influenza pandemic
Health Policy Plan. (2012) 27(6): 516-526 doi:10.1093/heapol/czr075
On 11 June 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the world was in phase 6 of an influenza pandemic. In India, the first case of 2009 H1N1 influenza was reported on 16 May 2009 and by August 2010 (when the pandemic was declared over), 38 730 cases of 2009 H1N1 had been confirmed of which there were 2024 deaths. Here, we propose a conceptual model of the sources of health disparities in an influenza pandemic in India. Guided by a published model of the plausible sources of such disparities in the United States, we reviewed the literature for the determinants of the plausible sources of health disparities during a pandemic in India. We find that factors at multiple social levels could determine inequalities in the risk of exposure and susceptibility to influenza, as well as access to treatment once infected: (1) religion, caste and indigenous identity, as well as education and gender at the individual level; (2) wealth at the household level; and (3) the type of location, ratio of health care practitioners to population served, access to transportation and public spending on health care in the geographic area of residence. Such inequalities could lead to unequal levels of disease and death. Whereas causal factors can only be determined by testing the model when incidence and mortality data, collected in conjunction with socio-economic and geographic factors, become available, we put forth recommendations that policy makers can undertake to ensure that the pandemic preparedness plan includes a focus on social inequalities in India in order to prevent their exacerbation in a pandemic.