Public Health Report - Ansaf Azhar

Public health chief calls for urgent action after COVID-19 shines a “cruel light” on inequalities

Organisations across Oxfordshire are being asked to come together to intensify efforts to help the most deprived areas of the county in the wake of COVID-19.

Oxfordshire may be one of the most affluent counties in the UK, but it includes ten of the most deprived wards in the whole of England. Ansaf Azhar, who has been in post as the county council’s Director for Public Health since 2019, has produced his first annual report, which will be discussed by the county’s Health and Wellbeing Board on June 18 – and inequality is at the top of his agenda.

He said: “When I first wrote my report, it was long before COVID-19 had become a global pandemic. However, the virus has not made these concerns go away – quite the opposite. It has shone a cruel light on many of the issues I discuss.

The virus has replicated the existing health inequalities in our county and across the nation, disproportionately affecting our most vulnerable communities. Economic inequality has a significant impact on the health, wellbeing and life expectancy of the people who live in these areas.

“There is a potential 15-year life expectancy gap between people living in the most prosperous parts of Oxfordshire and those in the least affluent wards. As the recent Public Health England report has shown, the risk of exposure to coronavirus and of suffering more severe outcomes is higher for those living in more deprived areas.

“COVID-19 has dramatically illustrated the devastating impact of health inequalities. These are national issues, but there is important work we can do locally to improve the situation here in the county. We must act now to ensure that everyone in Oxfordshire has the opportunity to live a long and healthy life.

Across Oxfordshire, we have long been shaping our environment so that homes are healthier, green spaces can be easily accessed, and walking and cycling are supported and encouraged.

“Councils and their partners have been working hard to help our residents do more exercise, eat differently and adopt healthier lifestyles.

“We’ve made good progress, but we now need to redouble our efforts. I hope this report will act as a catalyst for us all to come together in Oxfordshire as organisations and individuals so that we can put ourselves collectively in a more resilient position.

“Let’s harness the community response we’ve seen to COVID-19 and maintain the momentum as we seek to build a brighter and healthier future for the county.”

A copy of the report can be found here