Perspectives from the European Commission, Ghana, Virginia, and the Private Sector on Global Health Inequalities

L to R: Executive Vice President of Meridian International Center Natalie jones, moderator Akilah Johnson (Washington Post), H.E. Alima Mahama (Ambassador of Ghana), Vice-President for Democracy and Demography of the European Commission Dubravka Šuica, Dr. Jean Accius (AARP), and Dr. Susan Harvey (Hologic, Inc.) pose for a photograph after a Diplocraft program at Meridian on February 9. Photo by Jess Latos.

As global health emergencies become more frequent, countries are left to reckon with the considerable health disparities that persist within and across their borders. These global health inequities carry heavy social and economic implications for the communities that experience them and, thus, require innovative solutions, as well as multidimensional approaches, to combat the issue.

The Meridian Center for Diplomatic Engagement convened experts and leaders from government, civil society, and private sectors to delve into this topic and brainstorm pathways for addressing this global challenge. The program featured keynote remarks from Her Excellency Dubravka Šuica, Vice-President for Democracy and Demography at the European Commission and The Honorable John Littel, Secretary of Health and Human Resources of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The remarks were then followed by an enriching panel discussion with Dr. Jean Accius, Senior Vice President of Global Thought Leadership at AARP; Dr. Susan Harvey, Vice President of Worldwide Medical Affairs at Hologic; and Her Excellency Alima Mahama, Ambassador of the Republic of Ghana to the U.S. moderated by Akilah Johnson, National Health Reporter at The Washington Post.


Here are the top takeaways from the program:

1. Paying Attention to Demographic Changes Around the World

How do governments respond to citizens’ needs? Vice-President Dubravka Šuica led with this question as she discussed the importance of understanding countries’ demographic changes. As various reports have shown, the 21st century has seen drastic demographic shifts around the globe. One notable change has been the global proportion of adults aged 65 and over, which has already outnumbered the proportion of children aged 5 and younger. Governments must be able to adapt to these demographic shifts, if they are to respond appropriately to their populations’ needs. Some of these may include long-term care for elderly populations and a multigenerational labor market that is inclusive of a rapidly aging population.

2. Disparities in Aging and Longevity Start from the Womb

Though disparities in aging and longevity do not become particularly evident until a certain age, they start from the very moment we are born. Factors such as gender, race, ethnicity, and social class influence what kind of life we will lead, as well as what kind of services we will be provided. Focusing on gender, Dr. Susan Harvey highlighted that only 1/3 of women in the U.S. got their blood pressure taken in 2020, even though heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the country.

3. The Collective Imperative of Eliminating Inequalities

As the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated, populations are deeply interconnected. Thus, when a country experiences gross levels of social and economic inequalities, the repercussions are felt by the rest. In this case, disparities in aging and longevity are bound to impact a country’s economic productivity, which will, in turn, affect how other economies perform around the world. To avoid this, a collective responsibility to address these inequalities arises. Dr. Jean Accius noted: “To the extent that you can address the inequities in a particular country, particularly those facing a certain population, it benefits all populations.” More information about the dire need to address these inequalities can be found on page 12 of the AARP Aging Readiness & Competitiveness Report 4.0.

 4. Access to Healthcare is Only the First Step

Though guaranteeing comprehensive health services is an important step towards combatting global health disparities, it only solves part of the problem. Both Secretary John Littel and Ambassador Alima Mahama spoke about the work their governments are doing to ensure that citizens receive the support they need to lead healthy lives. In Virginia, the state government is investing in language access services, food security programs, mental health initiatives, and affordable housing to promote healthier living. In Ghana, the national government is implementing policies like the “Free Elderly Care Policy,” which seek to reduce obstacles that certain populations face when attempting to access health services.

5. Establishing Safety Nets

Disparities in aging and longevity within and across countries are not naturally occurring. In many cases, governments and private sector actors could help avoid them by establishing social safety nets for their populations. Dr. Susan Harvey underscored Australia and New Zealand’s teen pregnancy social programs as effective safety nets that prevent teenage mothers from falling behind in most, if not all, human development indicators. Their effectiveness comes from their ability to address the social determinants of health, or what Secretary Littel referred to as “the social determinants of life.” In the case of Virginia, Secretary Littel noted that the government is focused on increasing access to healthcare providers in both rural and low-income areas.


(3) Full Remarks from Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources John Littel from February 9th - YouTube

AARP ARC-4.0 Real-world solutions to help facilitate equity in healthy aging (

Women's Health Index | Hologic | Global Women's Health Index (

This program was made possible with support from

Project summary

Perspectives from the European Commission, Ghana, Virginia, and the Private Sector on Global Health Inequalities | February 2023
Number of Attendees: 131
Regions: Africa, East Asia and Pacific, Europe and Eurasia, Western Hemisphere
Countries: Argentina, Croatia, Ecuador, France, Ghana, Jamaica, Japan, Portugal, United Kingdom
Impact Areas: Global Health, Human and Civil Rights, Empowering Women and Girls
Program Areas: Diplomatic Engagement
Partners: Diplomatic Corps, NGOs, Private Sector, Public Sector