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Every April, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Minority Health observe National Minority Health Month to highlight the importance of health equity and reduce health disparities among racial and ethnic minorities and American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities. This year’s theme, Better Health Through Better Understanding, focuses on improving health outcomes for the most affected populations by providing culturally competent healthcare services, information and resources.
This topic is a critical one for people in our community to learn about and understand, especially when we consider the 26-year life expectancy gap in the Greater Cincinnati region. Many people believe that individual choices, race or genetics are the driving factors of an individual’s health, when, in reality, health is shaped mostly by community conditions, including factors like lack of affordable housing, access to reliable transportation, access to healthy food options and more. The persistent disparities in health are driven by underlying inequities, such as poverty, racism and discrimination. Our systems, especially healthcare, require change that better serves all community members, regardless of race, age, class, or education level. While factors like language barriers and a lack of healthcare competence are reasons behind inadequate healthcare, we must work to overcome all challenges to see real, equitable change.
When we consider the relevance of observances like National Minority Health Month, it’s important to understand the reasons why we recognize the topics in the first place. We invite you to take a moment and absorb the below statistics from the Kaiser Family Foundation around the disparities that some communities face:
This data shows how these inequities negatively impact the physical and mental health and well-being of our most at-risk neighbors. Couple these data points with the fact that only 14% of the U.S. population has proficient health literacy and we are faced with a pressing issue that must be solved. Provider and pharmacy availability, access to linguistically and culturally appropriate and respectful care and quality of care are all real barriers that our communities face.
But how do we remove these barriers that stand in the way of optimal health? How do we build a society where a person’s health is no longer determined by who they are or where they live? First and foremost, if we don’t change the rules, we won’t change the outcomes. Policy and system change are needed to usher in change that will have real outcomes—because only policy can fix what policy broke. While we have made strides in the right direction, there is still a long way to go. Laws and policies that don’t advantage one community over another are not the only ways we can achieve change. We must center the voices of those individuals who are impacted by inequities because we believe that those closest to the problems are also closest to the solutions. When patients in health institutions are given culturally and linguistically appropriate information, they are more equipped to create healthier outcomes for themselves and their communities. However, these communities are also often farthest from the power and resources to make change happen. That’s why we must work with those most affected to come up with the appropriate solutions that will:
We at Interact for Health invite you to observe this National Minority Health Month and start a conversation with friends, family and neighbors about the very real health disparities our community faces on a day-to-day basis. Visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services page for updates throughout the month and for more ways to participate.
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