Tell me who you are, I’ll tell you what you suffer from

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Mr. Antonio Guevara Lopez , a third-year medical student at the Faculdade de Medicina da Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal. He is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

Being able to access something as natural but as necessary as healthcare is essential to improve our health, our well-being and, therefore, our average life expectancy. However, it often seems that the fulfillment of this fundamental requirement continues to be limited by the most diverse factors, such as age, skin color and ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, among others.

Normally all behaviors are based on a concept – stigma. This represents, at its best and worst, a form of social devaluation (and even demotion) of others. The word stigma comes from the Latin stigmat, which means mark. Discrimination is associated with stigmatization, that is, with the creation of negative stereotypes, and this problem on many faces.

If we talk about age, it is estimated that every second, a person in the world suffers from “moderate or high” prejudice for being in the third age. This is called “ageism”, the third “ism”, right after racism and sexism. Age seems to be the most relevant factor of discrimination in society. It is as if, being older somehow “erased”, the gender itself (there are no elderly men or women, only elderly) and the possible benefits of education (there are no elderly with more or less education). This age-centered reductionism devalues ​​individuality, which is humanly impoverishing and culturally dangerous.

Racism is another big problem in terms of healthcare access. The disparities in access to health services experienced by black patients are typically the largest and most consistent of any racialized or ethnic group in countries such as the United States. It is estimated that the average life expectancy in people with black skin was much lower compared to people with white skin in the US.

Pathologies such as obesity represent an increasing burden on healthcare systems as it affects more than 20% of Western populations. Obesity significantly increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia. It also brings with it stigma and prejudice. Currently, the rate of discrimination for overweight is comparable to the rates of discrimination based on skin color and age, especially among women.

Homosexuals and/or trans people are also targets of discrimination in accessing health care, with 1 in 4 people already pointing out this fact following visits they made, for example, to their family doctor. Often it can only translate into a lack of tact when it comes to the patient, which simply culminates in discouraging certain procedures or ignoring some complaints.

Human prejudice is in fact a very powerful tool that has been limiting thought and our evolution since the dawn of humanity. Countless wars have been battled, in the name of a judgment that we dare to make without even knowing who is in front of us. It must never be forgotten that a person is much more than a category, than a box, a person is a whole myriad, it is a body, a mind, a spirit, which houses an immensity of experiences that give it a character, unique and very special.

About the author

Antonio Guevara Lopez is a third-year medical student at the Faculdade de Medicina da Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal. He is a scientific researcher and communicator. He currently is a associate editor of Ata Medica Portugal, the official jornal of the Medical Order in Portugal, the scientific coordinator of the Aerospace Medicine and Life Science Student Club in Portugal and also participates in a lot of volunteering projects.  He believes that we all can be better professionals, better persons every day and fight for a world with more kindness, higher tolerance, more compassion, less hate and envy with just small acts of random kindness.

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