In April, we commemorate National Minority Health Month, a time to raise awareness about health disparities that persist among racial and ethnic minorities. This year’s theme, “Prevention is Power: Taking Action for Health Equity”, highlights prevention as a key strategy for achieving health equity.
“Failure to address the health challenges facing minorities diminishes the health of the nation as a whole,” said Jean J. E. Bonhomme, MD, MPH, member of MHN Board of Directors and National Black Men’s Health Network founder. “The U.S. has one of the most expensive health care systems in the world, yet our life expectancies, infant mortality rates and other health care outcomes are often middle of the road at best. This situation exists in large measure because many of our advanced and effective health care interventions are not reaching minorities.”
According to Bonhomme, of equal importance is studying minorities who suffer the highest known rates of many life limiting conditions provides unique opportunities to identify real causes and effective prevention of disease. “Increased attention to minority health could benefit us all significantly.”
Despite recent progress in addressing health disparities, great challenges remain. Minorities are far more likely than non-Hispanic whites to suffer from chronic conditions, many of which are preventable. This is a particularly troubling statistic, because chronic diseases account for seven of the ten leading causes of death in our nation.
“Seven of the top 10 causes of death in the U.S. are from chronic diseases and men of color are disproportionately affected by many of these conditions, including heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes, which can be preventable,” said J. Nadine Gracia, MD, MSCE, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health and Director of the Office of Minority Health.
While these persistent disparities are deeply troubling, there are some hopeful trends. The gap in life expectancy between African Americans and non-Hispanic whites has been closing, and is now the smallest it’s been since these statistics have been tracked. Also, seasonal flu vaccination coverage has tripled for children over the past four years and has contributed to a reduction in vaccination disparities among minority children.
Additionally, with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, many feel that health disparities will be greater reduced. Within the ACA are targeted provisions that focus on improving quality of care for racial/ethnic minorities.
According to Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius, “ These provisions include increased data collection efforts, resources to improve culturally competent care, workforce development strategies, increased funding and priority for research into health disparities, and support for innovative solutions to address social determinants of health – the economic and social conditions in which people are born, grow, work and live. These conditions inﬂ uence both individual and population health2and include such factors as quality of housing, neighborhood safety, transportation options, education and food access, and the distribution of income, wealth and power.”
Garcia notes, “At this time in history, we have unprecedented opportunities—such as those created by the Affordable Care Act and HHS Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities—to implement prevention measures to move the needle on health disparities and achieve health equity for all Americans.”