Author: Rudy Macklin, director, Bureau of Minority Health Access
The Bureau of Minority Health Access’s vision is a Louisiana free of racial and ethnic disparities in health and healthcare. Minority Health Month is just one of several programs produced by the Bureau that shines light on that goal.
Since deciding to take part in the federal Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Minority Health’s program in 1998, the Bureau has awarded mini-grants to deserving healthcare associations, churches, federally qualified health centers, historically black colleges and universities (HBCU), Hispanic groups, Native Americans and Asian Pacific Islanders to carry out minority health activities in their areas.
Many of our programs in Louisiana would never come to light without our community partners to assist with formulating policy, implementing new programs and promoting healthy living in the areas they serve.
Minority Health Month in 1998 was and still is designed to:
- promote healthy lifestyles;
- provide crucial information to allow individuals to practice disease prevention;
- showcase the resources for and providers of grassroots health care and information;
- highlight the resolution of the disparate health conditions between Louisiana's minority and non-minority populations; and
- gain additional support for the ongoing efforts to improve minority health year-round.
Health disparities are differences in the overall rate of disease incidence, prevalence, morbidity, mortality or survival rates between different groups. Disparities result not only in a lower overall quality of life among those impacted but of their families and communities as well.
Racial and ethnic differences in health perceptions and health behaviors are often unconventional when compared to modern medicine and can hinder the process of healing and promotion. This is especially the case when health care providers have not received training in cultural competence. The lack of knowledge about the cultural beliefs and health behaviors of a patient can be detrimental to the provision of care.
Although ethnic and cultural beliefs have a powerful influence on the health of minority populations, it is widely observed that socioeconomic status has a greater impact on health than does race and ethnicity.
Due to the overwhelming representation of minorities living below the poverty line in Louisiana, the socioeconomic factor becomes especially relevant to minority health. Level of income tends to dictate where groups live, and therefore what services are available to them. Geographic isolation from health care services is a great disadvantage to many minority populations.
The Impact of Poverty
Poor nutrition, inaccessibility to health care providers, and inability to pay for services are all factors which result from poverty and lead to poor health status. Poverty and poor health are also detrimental to education attainment, as accessibility and ability to afford are impacted by income levels, and poor health affects one's functioning in an academic environment.
For minorities in Louisiana, this means higher rates of diabetes, hypertension and being overweight or obese.
Since 2012, the push to eliminate health disparities has taken an entirely new narrative by minority health advocates. The big push today is about achieving health equity. It is said, “One must reduce health disparities in order to achieve health equity.” Health equity is the attainment of the highest level of health for all people. Health equity means efforts to ensure that all people have full and equal access to opportunities that enable them to lead healthy lives.
As for me personally, true equity lies in understanding not what is legal, but what is just. With new, bold leadership in Governor John Bel Edwards and a dynamic Secretary of Health in Dr. Rebekah Gee, I truly believe now we can get there.
For more information on Minority Health Access, click here.