COVID-19 Exacerbates Social, Economic DifferencesBy Miriam Bello | Wed, 02/03/2021 - 13:01
Q: In which research areas is the institute focused on?
A: We focus on two areas. One is inequity, whether social or economic. The other is public health policy. However, we work in an interdisciplinary way, often interacting with professionals from other fields, including those at Universidad Iberoamericana and other bodies. We collaborate intensively with the Department for Nutrition and Health and the Institute for Research in Technology at Universidad Iberoamericana. Furthermore, we work with economists who are active in the social sciences.
Q: How has COVID-19 impacted the level of inequity in Mexican society?
A: There are inequities between the poor and wealthy, the indigenous and non-indigenous, men and women, disabled and nondisabled, to mention a few. The impact is not just visible in the level of income but also the opportunities that people get. For example, people with a higher economic status are more likely to have access to quality education. This perpetuates inequity and COVID-19 has only exacerbated these differences. One visible example, which we have studied in recent months, is access to remote education. Lower income households are less likely to have internet connections and access to a computer. One of our surveys showed that one in 10 Mexican households did not have access to remote elementary school programs that the government has been providing. When stratified, the majority of these households were of lower economic status.
Q: Obesity is considered a pandemic in Mexico. What are some of the main causes that you have observed?
A: There are multiple factors in play. First, the type of food people consume and how often. Processed foods have gained a bigger foothold in households versus healthier options like vegetables. Secondly, drinks with high sugar levels have seen a rise in consumption, replacing water. Thirdly, sedentarism has grown, particularly among children. The levels of physical exercise are markedly lower than they used to be. This has a lot to do with the type of activities that children do today. Mexico now has the highest rate of child obesity in the world.
Q: What do you believe is a major deficiency in Mexico’s health system?
A: One of the main problems in Mexico is that we have not put sufficient emphasis on preventive healthcare. We go to the doctor when we are already sick, which is more costly. A big challenge is to implement a system that really provides preventive healthcare at a universal level, offering frequent checkups to avoid a later stage diagnosis.
Q: INSABI promises to create a new universal system. What challenges do you think this initiative will face?
A: It is too early to say what INSABI will achieve because many details remain unclear. There is a difference between the conceptual vision and the reality of its operation. I get the impression that financing is going to be a major challenge. With the high demand for healthcare in this country, there is often insufficient budget to cover all types of diseases and the associated treatments. We need to start by knowing what diseases will be covered by INSABI. If it intends to cover a wide range of diseases, the pressure on the government budget is going to be very high. Particular diseases, such as diabetes, and certain types of cancer require expensive medications.
Q: What health areas should the government focus on after the pandemic?
A: One issue that is still not getting enough attention is the mental health crisis that has emerged due to this pandemic. With so many things happening at the same time, like people losing their employment or seeing their income reduced significantly, in addition to the concern of getting sick and uncertainty regarding access to hospital beds, stress levels have risen significantly. One of our studies found that one in three Mexicans now suffer from severe anxiety. This is having a real impact on productivity and absenteeism, not to mention suicides. Another issue that the government needs to address is the fact that the massive focus of the public health system on the virus has led to disruption in the treatment of other diseases. Moreover, many people diagnosed with health conditions have avoided hospitals due to fear of being infected with COVID-19. For many, their condition has advanced and treatment is even more urgent.
Q: What new research are you conducting?
A: We are addressing the issue of food access. Mexico has a long way to go in implementing public policies that help address this. Food security has been affected significantly during this pandemic, as well. Our advice is to transfer resources to the most vulnerable households to relieve the burden they are going through at the moment. We have also published policy briefs related to mental health issues that arise after loss of employment and less social interaction. We publish all our briefs, which contain recommendations for policies, on our website. We invite everyone to read them.
The Research Institute for Development With Equity (EQUIDE-IBERO) is a center for applied research oriented to the design and evaluation of public policies in Mexico in the areas of poverty and health.