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Partnerships, persistence can close health gap in US

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Stubborn gaps in the health profiles of minority groups compared with those of the majority white population continue to stand out among the most wretched signs of inequality in our region, state and nation.

Data culled from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Ohio Department of Health and other health agencies powerfully illustrate the depth of these gaps:

African Americans have a 200 percent greater likelihood of dying from asthma, a 250 percent greater chance of dying during pregnancy, 900 percent greater risk of dying from HIV/AIDS and a 200 percent greater likelihood of dying from cervical or prostate cancer than do white Americans.

Hispanics are diagnosed with diabetes at double the rate for whites. They also have higher rates of end-stage renal disease, caused by diabetes.

Asian Americans suffer disproportionately from certain types of tuberculosis and hepatitis B.

Such disparities explain why no energies should be spared toward working assiduously toward closing those and other perverse health chasms that clearly rise as matters of life and death.

With that goal in mind, sponsors of Minority Health Month being marked throughout April in our region, state and nation have responsibly labeled the theme of the 2017 observance “Bridging Health Equities Across Communities.”

ABOUT MINORITY HEALTH MONTH

Minority Health Month was created in 1989 as a 30-day, high visibility health promotion and disease prevention campaign. Conducted in partnership with state agencies such as the Ohio Commission on Minority Health, community-based organizations such as the Office of Minority Health of Youngstown and local health departments, the monthlong campaign of heightened awareness stretches across urban, suburban and rural areas.

Today, improvements in technology, standards of living and access to health care have begun to narrow some of those once colossal gaps. Nonetheless, glaring health inequities remain a stain on our nation and an affront to our noble ideals

Nowhere in the Mahoning Valley is that stain more noticeable than in the infant-mortality rates of African-American babies compared with their white counterparts.

State data show the black infant mortality rate in Mahoning County was 17.7 in 2015. Shockingly, that’s three times higher that the 5.2 percent rate for white babies in the county and ranks among rates of the most underdeveloped nations of the world. The IMR is the number of babies who die in the first year of life per 1,000 live births.

To its credit, the Youngstown Office of Minority Health and the Youngstown and Mahoning County health departments have taken bold moves in recent years toward closing that most pernicious gap.

Such partnerships among a variety of agencies have succeeded in receipt of more than $2 million in grants over the past two years to help lessen the likelihood a baby will die before his or her first birthday.

One particularly innovative partnership was launched this spring among Youngstown safety forces, Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley and the city health department to lower the high rate of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, a prime contributor to high IMRs.

City police and firefighters are receiving training on recognizing the signs of unsafe infant sleep conditions in the homes they visit. Once spotted, the safety forces will then give parents or guardians referrals for advice and access to cribs and playpens that are proven safe. Officials hope to expand the program into Trumbull and Columbiana counties.

Enhancing awareness of the disparities in infants’ health also rises as a clear foundation for Minority Health Month. Youngstown’s office already has sponsored programs and plans a Community First Birthday celebration Thursday in Wick Park to provide resources for mothers to maximize health for themselves and their newborns.

Such partnerships and awareness campaign can go far. They must also stretch into some of the systemic roots of the gaps that include educational, employment and housing inequities that continue to divide America. We hope such efforts can gain momentum not only in April but all year long.

As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said five decades ago, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and inhumane.”