Medical Vulnerability


Research over the past two decades from epidemiology and public health has investigated the link between health and social vulnerability, drawing ties from the social science literature to identify the social characteristics of populations at highest health risk based on access to medical resources (Aday, 1994 and 2001Aday, L. A. (2001). At risk in America. The Health and Health Care Needs of Vulnerable Populations in the United States, 2001.). These commonly cited social characteristics that correlate with health care access include social status, social capital, and human capital; showing unmistakable parity with those social indicators introduced by the social vulnerability literature in the previous section. Several researchers, however, make a clear distinction between health risk and health need (Aday, 1994 and 2001; Morath, 2010). While the social indicators of health risk help to identify sensitive populations, the indicators of health need identify individuals and communities with inherent medical vulnerability, independent of ancillary factors. While the concept of medical vulnerability is relatively new in the field of hazards research, it is tenured in a long-standing tradition combining concepts of public and environmental health, quality of life, health equity, medical surge, and other place-based models of community and family health. Based on the epidemiology and disaster surveillance literature, Morath’s (2010) investigation of medical vulnerability to disasters identifies three dimensions that contribute to a potential for harm: individual medical needs, community healthcare access, and health system capability. These dimensions are derived not only from direct disaster impacts on the exposed population, but also from impacts on the healthcare system that include the interruption of key medical services.