Our interest in a human rights and health discourse emerges from our efforts as social scientists to bring a meaningful social justice perspective to the realm of public health. In Canada, as in many countries, "health" is still firmly within the domain of the biomedical and the clinical. While considerable effort has been made to include more social, economic, and cultural perspectives, efforts to frame these issues as political phenomena have tended to be polarized into either a rich body of theoretical literature or case studies of interventions which have in varying degrees incorporated a social justice approach. What is still missing is a framework of discourse that allows various concepts of social justice to inform policy, intervention strategies, evaluation and evidence-based measures of effectiveness. This commentary examines the human rights discourse as conceptual space from which to build this framework.
There is a growing need to better understand and address the consequences of an increasing reliance on networks used to enhance health services delivery. Networks seem to have emerged as the definitive solution for tackling complex healthcare problems together that we have not been able to adequately address separately. Emphasizing the collective and the collaborative, networks are assumed to address healthcare issues in ways that are superior to previous service-delivery models. While this assumption would appear to be sound theoretically, we have little empirical information available to actually understand what networks are, what they do and whether they achieve their stated goals--truly making a difference in the delivery of care and the maintenance of health. With a diversity of networks within Canada focused on health services delivery, this paper offers a multi-dimensional framework for conceptualizing how these complex inter-organizational relationships generate both challenges and opportunities. We identify six paradoxes that the networks create when used to enhance the delivery of health services and posit several propositions concerning the evaluative work that needs to be done to enhance our understanding of and confidence in this inter-organizational form. Unless these paradoxes are adequately recognized and addressed, the value and costs associated with developing and using networks in healthcare contexts will remain unclear at best. Given the broad interest in and use of networks proliferating in health-related arenas, it is time to amass the evidence and than align the perspectives. Are networks here to stay in healthcare because they make a difference or because we got tired of talking about the need for greater collaboration and so gave it a new name and frame? At the very least, it will be important to build on what we have already learned through research into collaboration in healthcare and related fields, and even more critical to be mindful of the pitfalls and possibilities of using networks as the solution of choice as we move forward.
The Canadian public health sector's foundational values of social justice and equity, and its mandate to promote population health, make it ideally situated to take a strong lead in addressing persistent and unacceptable inequities in health between socially disadvantaged, marginalized or excluded groups and the general population. There is currently much attention paid to improving understanding of pathways to health equity and development of effective population health interventions to reduce health inequities. Strengthening the capacity of the public health sector to develop, implement and sustain equity-focused population health initiatives - including readiness to engage in a social justice-based equity framework for public health - is an equally essential area that has received less attention. Unfortunately, there is evidence that current capacity of the Canadian public health sector to address inequities is highly variable. The first step in developing a sustained approach to improving capacity for health equity action is the identification of what this type of capacity entails. This paper outlines a Conceptual Framework of Organizational Capacity for Public Health Equity Action (OC-PHEA), grounded in the experience of Canadian public health equity champions, that can guide research, dialogue, reflection and action on public health capacity development to achieve health equity goals.