The Importance of Health Equity in Infection Prevention and Control


A session held at the APIC 2023 Annual Conference & Exhibition delved into the importance of equity in infection prevention and explored the impact of health inequities on the transmission of diseases.

Session, How health inequities influence disease transmission. Photo, Isis Lamphier, MPH, CIC. APIC 2023 Annual Conference & Exhibition.

Session, How health inequities influence disease transmission. Photo, Isis Lamphier, MPH, CIC. APIC 2023 Annual Conference & Exhibition.

According to the CDC, health equity refers to the principle that all individuals should have equal opportunities to achieve their full health potential, regardless of their social or economic circumstances. Marginalized or vulnerable populations often experience higher rates of infection and poorer health outcomes due to health inequities and disparities. By addressing these differences, we can minimize the disproportionate impact of infections on these populations.

Caldwell Lewin, MSN, RN, CIC, CPHQ, Infection Prevention and Control System manager for Sentara Healthcare and Jessica Tarabay, MPH, MHR, CIC, manager of Infection Prevention at Emory University, delivered a presentation focused on tackling disparities to enhance health equity in infection prevention during the 2023 APIC Conference in Orlando, Florida. Health inequities can lead to patients experiencing inequitable exposure and predisposition, transmission, susceptibility, and treatment. Lewin and Tarabay emphasized the importance for health care professionals to feel comfortable when inquiring about patients' circumstances and to avoid making assumptions, such as assuming whether patients have access to clean water at home. By asking these important questions and understanding the unique challenges that patients may face, health care professionals can understand social determinants of health and how they can impact health outcomes for patients such as infection rates. Other social determinants of health such as income, education, food insecurity, housing, and early childhood development also significantly influence health outcomes. Lewin and Tarabay included several studies in their presentation that depicted the relationship between inequities and infection outcome. In one study, Black men exhibited higher postoperative mortality rates in comparison to White men, White women, and Black women.

To promote health equity in infection control, Lewin and Tarabay emphasized the importance of stakeholder collaboration and partnerships, equitable inclusive policies and procedures, and health literacy resources. Tarabay stated, “Health literacy is critical in achieving health equity.” Incorporating health literacy into your practice can assist in effectively communicating health information to patients and providing enhanced support. For example, prior to a surgical procedure, providers must effectively communicate to their patient postoperative instructions, signs of infections to monitor for, etc. and feel confident that their patient understood the delivery of information. Health literacy plays a vital role in improving health outcomes by enhancing individuals' understanding of health information, enabling effective healthcare navigation, facilitating shared decision-making, promoting healthy behaviors, and fostering health advocacy. It empowers individuals to take control of their health and make informed choices, leading to better overall health outcomes.

During their presentation, Lewin and Tarabay also discussed the formation of a task force by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) to create a practical plan, which has since evolved into a permanent committee called the Health Equity Committee. The committee places special emphasis on addressing regulations, systems, policies, and institutions that contribute to inequities leading to adverse health conditions and outcomes among disadvantaged populations, such as racial/ethnic minorities and individuals with lower socioeconomic status. Tarabay is the chair of the committee and Lewin is the co-chair. They encourage all APIC members interested in health equity in infection prevention to apply to join the committee when applications open in the Fall.

What is your organization doing to address health equity, especially in infection prevention?

Lewin CA, Tarabay J. Health inequity in infection prevention and control. APIC 2023 National Conference & Exposition. Orlando, Florida.

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