Africanizing the social determinants of health: embedded structural inequalities and current health outcomes in sub-Saharan Africa

Int J Health Serv. 2013;43(4):745-59. doi: 10.2190/HS.43.4.i.


There is a growing interest in health policy in the social determinants of health. This has increased the demand for a paradigm shift within the discipline of health economics from health care economics to health economics. While the former involves what is essentially a medical model that emphasizes the maximization of individual health outcomes and considers the social organization of the health system as merely instrumental, the latter emphasizes that health and its distribution result from political, social, economic, and cultural structures. The discipline of health economics needs to refocus its energy on the social determinants of health but, in doing so, must dig deeper into the reasons for structurally embedded inequalities that give rise to inequalities in health outcomes. Especially is this the case in Africa and other low- and middle-income regions. This article seeks to provide empirical evidence from sub-Saharan Africa, including Ghana and Nigeria, on why such inequalities exist, arguing that these are in large part a product of hangovers from historically entrenched institutions. It argues that there is a need for research in health economics to embrace the social determinants of health, especially inequality, and to move away from its current mono-cultural focus.

MeSH terms

  • Africa South of the Sahara
  • Child
  • Child Mortality / trends*
  • Developmental Disabilities / economics
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Social Class
  • Social Determinants of Health*