Vulnerable populations are those groups defined by one of several factors, either socio-economic status, age, gender, disability, or geographical location, which puts them at-risk for health disparities. Any individual, group, or entire community can be defined as a vulnerable population when their circumstances present barriers to their obtaining information or access to resources.
The World Health Organization, for instance, works to create equity, attempting to minimize the disadvantages faced by vulnerable populations. The WHO outlines four specific ways that lead to vulnerability—economic, social, demographics, and geography—and notes that it is a combination of these four factors that contributes to a lack of access to health care. Generally, however, treating one of these four factors can improve either the other three or a vulnerable population’s overall health.
The health needs of a vulnerable population can be divided into three areas: physical, psychological, and social. Vulnerable populations with physical needs include high-risk mothers and infants, the chronically ill, and those with HIV. Vulnerable psychological populations include those living with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Those living in abusive situation, the homeless and refugees qualify as a vulnerable social population.