04-16-2012

Public health focuses on health disparities, erasing gaps and barriers to care

Kentucky Press News Service

FRANKFORT - The Kentucky Department for Public Health’s Office of Health Equity is promoting National Minority Health Month during April. This year’s theme, “Health Equity Can’t Wait. Act Now in Your CommUNITY!” is a call to action to reduce health disparities among various minorities across the state.

Health equity is defined as the attainment of the highest level of health for all people. According to the research conducted by DPH, numerous disparities – or gaps in health equity – exist in Kentucky, such as the rate of diabetes among the state’s Hispanic population or infant mortality among African-Americans.

Public health, local health departments, health care professionals and other community partners are working together to address these issues, help eliminate barriers and improve access to care.

“The causes of health disparities and the barriers to good health and health care are multiple and overlapping,” said Dr. Steve Davis, acting DPH commissioner. “We are focused on erasing these gaps.”

A year ago this month, the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released its Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities and the National Stakeholder Strategy for Achieving Health Equity, identifying key issues and health concerns for improving minority health. The determinants of health can be categorized under four broadly acceptable categories:

− Social determinants such as gender, race, socioeconomic status, employment status, educational achievement, etc.
− Behavioral determinants such as being overweight or obese, exercise norms, and use of illicit drugs, tobacco or alcohol.
− Environmental determinants such as lead exposure, asthma triggers, workplace safety factors, and unsafe or polluted living conditions.
− Biological and genetic determinants such as family history of heart disease and inherited conditions such as hemophilia and cystic fibrosis.

In 2010, DPH received $420,000 in federal grant funding to enhance its already ongoing efforts to improve cultural competency and eliminate health disparities among minority groups.

The grant funding, which went to the DPH Health Equity Branch, is being used to implement a program focusing on two areas – diabetes among the Hispanic population and infant mortality among African-Americans.

“In Kentucky, various health disparities exist that affect a variety of populations from minority health issues to rural health issues,” said Vivian Lasley-Bibbs, of the DPH’s health equity program. “These groups are underserved and lack equitable access to care. Observances, like Minority Health Month, assist us in our ongoing work by helping educate the public about the impact of disparities and focusing resources where they are needed.”

As part of the federal grant, the Health Equity Branch is working to increase awareness of the significance of health disparities; strengthen leadership for addressing disparities; improve health outcomes for racial and ethnic minorities; improve cultural and linguistic competency; and improve coordination and use of research and evaluation.

“Where we live, learn, work and play have an enormous impact on our ability to make healthy decisions,” said Dr. Davis. “These factors are a powerful contributor to health disparities.”

The support of organizations across the nation is crucial to achieving health equity. Interested businesses and organizations can join the work of public health by taking a pledge to support the National Partnership for Action and receive regular updates on its progress. The pledge can be found at
http://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/npa/templates/OrgPledge.aspx?lvl=2&lvlid=50.

For more information about National Minority Health Month, visit http://www.minorityhealth.hhs.gov, or contact the Department for Public Health, Office of Health Equity at (502) 564-3970.