American Public Health Association
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For Immediate Release

Town Hall Meeting Highlights Programs Working to Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities

National Public Health Week Event Showcases Critical Need for Solution to Disparities and Recognizes Collaborative Approaches to Defeating Disparities

Washington, DC, April 5, 2004 The American Public Health Association held a town hall meeting today to highlight creative ways to solve racial and ethnic health disparities. The town hall meeting was the launch event for a series of similar meetings being held across the country during National Public Health Week 2004.

“We’ve been measuring the differences in health outcomes for years. While progress has been made, it’s been inadequate. In many cases these unacceptable gaps remain and some have increased. In response to this reality, National Public Health Week 2004 is about moving communities nationwide from statistics to solutions for eliminating health disparities,” said Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

Racial and ethnic health disparities are of critical concern nationwide and especially so in urban centers like Washington, DC. African Americans in the nation’s capital experience over 1.5 times more deaths from cancer than do Whites and over five times more deaths from diabetes than do Whites. Thirteen percent of Washington, DC, residents are uninsured and the teen birth rate for Latinos is more than 40 times greater than for Whites.

“Research is showing us the ‘why’ of disparities in health care. It’s time now to collaborate on the ‘how to’ of solutions. We must focus on prevention, education and increasing health literacy to improve the lives of all Americans,” said U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona. “President Bush and Secretary Thompson have committed the Department of Health and Human Services to eliminating health disparities. Evidence-based programs, such as our Closing the Health Gap educational initiative and others, are key to improving the health of ethnic and racial minority populations, and we need community collaborations to reach every American.”

“We need to expand access to quality health care, increase opportunities in medical education, cultural competence and research for Latinos ,” said Dr. Elena Rios, panelist at the town hall meeting and president of the National Hispanic Medical Association. “National Public Health Week is a critical time for us to focus on the programs that are working to help bridge the gaps in health outcomes.”

“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of American Indians/Alaska Natives living with AIDS has steadily increased since the early 1980s, with approximately a 10 percent increase each year for the past five years,” stated Michael Bird of the National Native American AIDS Prevention Center. “The median age for American Indian/Alaska Native infection is 24.2 years, compared with the U.S. population median age of 32.9 years. It’s critical that disparities like this receive appropriate attention.”

During the town hall meeting, “ Eliminating Ethnic and Racial Health Disparities by Moving the Nation from Statistics to Solutions, ” panelists discussed the critical role of community-based programs in the national endeavor to eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities and highlighted programs that are working to eliminate health disparities.

Project Wish is one such program. The District of Columbia ranks highest of all states in the country for breast and cervical cancer mortality. Project WISH (Women Into Staying Healthy) is a multi-faceted program funded by the CDC that provides free cancer education, screening and diagnostic services to low-income District women who have little or no health insurance. The program seeks to expand the number of women who receive screening for breast and cervical cancer; eliminate breast and cervical cancer health disparities due to ethnicity, income and geography; and increase access to quality cancer detection and treatment services.

" This is just one of the programs addressing health disparities in and around the DC metro area," said Nathan Stinson, Jr., Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health. “In order to make a real dent in eliminating health disparities – especially those related to race and ethnicity – we need to expand the reach of existing solutions and continue to work on developing new ones.”

In addition to this series of town hall meetings, the American Public Health Association released a searchable, online database that contains information about programs that are creating solutions to eliminate a wide variety of health disparities from nearly every state around the country. This database is a resource to help communities learn about new ways to solve disparity-related problems in their area. To access the database and learn more about ways to work together to eliminate health disparities, please visit National Public Health Week.

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