My first experience with “minority health” came during my Master of Public Health degree program. I served as a member of the speakers’ committee for the annual Minority Health Conference at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
We sought to raise awareness about issues related to health disparities and how to take collaborative action across different professions. Our participants included academic scholars, researchers, public health practitioners, community leaders, human rights advocates and policy makers.
We often hear the terms “health disparities,” “health inequities” and “social determinants” as they relate to populations, locally, nationally and globally. So let’s start with a few basic definitions:
Health equity means achieving the highest level of health for all people. It requires valuing every human being equally with continuous efforts to address avoidable social and economic inequalities, historical and contemporary injustices. Health equity also seeks the elimination of health and healthcare disparities.
Health disparities are defined as a particular type of health difference that is closely linked with one’s social or economic status. Health disparities negatively affect groups of people who have experienced greater social and/or economic obstacles to health due to characteristics historically linked to discrimination or exclusion. These characteristics include but are not limited to:
- Racial or ethnic group
- Socioeconomic status
- Mental health
- Physical disability
- Sexual orientation
- Geographic location
Social Determinants of Health
Social determinants of health refers to environmental conditions in which people are born, live, work and play that affect a wide array of health and quality-of-life outcomes and risks.
Ways to Observe National Minority Health Month
There are several easy ways to participate in National Minority Health Month. This year’s theme is “Bridging Health Equity across Communities.” During April, consider doing the following activities:
- Learn more about your own family’s medical history and keep a good record of your health conditions and treatment plans.
- Read, watch or listen to local news about emerging health conditions in your community.
- Obtain details about culturally and linguistically appropriate services.
- Attend a local event.
- Join community-based organizations or a local health department task force on minority health.
- Use and share the resources from reputable organizations.
- Use social media groups that engage in discussions about minority health and help spread the word.
- Sign up for OMH newsletters to receive email updates on Office of Minority Health and health disparities issues.
- Contact the Department of Health and Human Services if you have questions about National Minority Health Month.
Public Health Involving Minorities Is a Global Concern
National Minority Health Month recognizes health disparities in the United States, but coping with public health issues involving minorities remains both a local and a global problem. Fortunately, there are local public health events that address issues disproportionately affecting minorities, such as the Houston Heart Failure Management Conference, Save a Life and the Adult Congenital Heart Symposium.
In addition, international organizations have addressed global public health issues affecting minorities. The national ministries of health in the African region, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization/African Region are evaluating Ebola outbreak response capabilities, which have been strengthened through my collaboration.
The best way to teach more consumers about public health – and especially the health of minority groups – is through education. Staying informed, getting involved and getting connected are powerful ways to raise awareness and learn about the health problems affecting minorities.