By Michilea Patterson, The Mercury
The theme for the 2016 National Minority Health Month is “Accelerating Health Equity for the Nation” and the goal is to bring everyone together to address the health disparities that still exist for racial and ethnic populations.
National Minority Health Month began in 1915 when Dr. Booker T. Washington proposed the observance of “National Negro Health Week.” 100 years later, organizations are working toward the goal of eliminating barriers to health among minority groups.
“The purpose of National Minority Health Month is to raise awareness of the importance of health and wellbeing in minority populations but also to shine a light on the health disparities that continue to persist among minority populations,” said Dr. J. Nadine Gracia, director of the Office of Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Gracia completed all her medical training in Pennsylvania and attended the University of Pittsburgh as well as completed a fellowship at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. During her medical training, she saw first-hand how where people live, play and work affect health. During home visits of patients, Gracia would witness the barriers to transportation, affordable healthy food, safe playgrounds and more.
This year also marks the 30th anniversary of the Office of Minority Health which began in 1986 as a result of a report released on Black and minority health which became known as the Heckler Report. Gracia said tremendous progress has been made in the last 30 years. The life expectancy between African Americans and Whites is the narrowest it’s ever been, she said. She said another achievement to highlight is the impact the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, has had on the uninsured.
“President Obama announced that in the six years since the Affordable Care Act was passed, about 20 million Americans have gained health coverage and some of those largest gains have actually been among racial and ethnic minorities,” Gracia said.
She said the rate of the uninsured among African Americans declined by more than 50 percent since 2013 and added that the 2016 enrollment program in Pennsylvania had 440,000 people sign up for coverage.
“We made important progress but we also see that disparities persist,” Gracia said. “In Pennsylvania, African American adults are 44 percent more likely to die from diabetes and we see higher rates of stroke and heart disease.”
Gracia said when it comes to moving forward in eliminating health disparities, it’s going to take different sectors working together to overcome barriers. She said even individuals that aren’t in the healthcare industry can still improve the health of their community by addressing other social areas like education, transportation and recreation.
“In working to reduce health disparities, it takes all of us,” she said.