Health Disparities between Racial and Ethnic Groups

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007
This post was written by Melanie Matthews

Here’s a shocking statistic: As many as 83,500 deaths could have been avoided in the year 2000 if disparities in health were eliminated in the past century.

According to David Satcher, M.D., Ph.D., the nation’s fight against disparities in healthcare has not made much progress because it has not been made a priority within the government, despite the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) and Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) efforts to better adjust the nation’s focus on disparities. According to Satcher, such efforts have not be adequately empowered to do their jobs properly.

“We keep getting back to the fact that these [HHS’s Office of Minority Health, CDC’s Office of Minority Health and Disparities, the National Disparities Report] are very important efforts, but are we serious when we don’t fund them?,” asks Sachter.

Sachter is the director of Satcher Health Leadership Institute at the Morehouse School of Medicine and also served as former U.S. Surgeon General. He makes some interesting points during the Kaiser Family Foundation’s webcast entitled “Today’s Topics In Health Disparities – What Are the Current Federal Legislative Efforts to Address Health Disparities between Racial and Ethnic Groups.”

Satcher speaks of several initiatives geared toward eliminating health disparities among different segments of the population. One is Healthy People, a 467-objective initiative. Nearly 200 of these objectives are specific to health disparities, however, to date, only 24 of these have been addressed since the programs inception in 1999.

Another program aimed at eliminating heatlh disparities in the U.S. is REACH, or Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health. REACH is a national, multi-level program that advances CDC’s efforts to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in health.

So what steps can be taken toward eliminating disparities in healthcare? Satcher calls on government organizations to better target social conditions that lead to poor health. He also says that access to healthcare is related to this problem, as poor social conditions tend to equal little or no access to proper care.

“I think it was really critical to set the goal for eliminating disparities in health, said Satcher. “It’s really critical because it’s really a matter of life and death.”

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