By: Jonca Bull, M.D.
April is Minority Health Month! I am proud to say that FDA’s Office of Minority Health (OMH), in collaboration with the Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Minority Health, is celebrating this year’s theme: “30 Years of Advancing Health Equity, The Heckler Report: A Force for Ending Health Disparities in America.” For us at FDA, this year also marks the 5th anniversary of OMH, which serves as the principal advisor to the Commissioner on minority health and health disparities.
The Heckler Report was a major, ground breaking document that transformed HHS’s views and actions on minority health. For the first time in history, representatives from each agency convened to talk about minority health and, more importantly, put forth recommendations to achieve health equity. Findings illustrated huge disparities between African Americans and other minorities compared to the population at large for key health indicators, such as life expectancy and infant mortality. Key recommendations relevant to FDA’s mission centered around health information and education, cooperative efforts (inside and outside of the government), health professions development, data development, and developing a research agenda.
Let’s stroll down memory lane and recap FDA’s activities that resulted from the Heckler report.
Health Information and Education
FDA has developed numerous outreach activities to improve consumer education and access to health information by utilizing the best cultural and linguistic practices to reach diverse minority populations. Hosting symposiums and webinars, participating in conferences, exhibiting in health fairs, and creating consumer educational materials are just some of the activities FDA has carried out to raise awareness and educate the public. Most recently, OMH has created a social media presence on Twitter and Pinterest, and maintains an active listserve with a quarterly newsletter. One of our most successful outreach campaigns has been the “Heart Health Toolkit” for American Heart Month, which reached over 6,000 people in February.
Our most recent consumer outreach occurred on March 25th via a webinar on how the public can respond to requests for comments on regulatory proposals and public health issues by using FDA dockets.
Cooperative Efforts/Health Professions Development
OMH embraces the notion that protecting the public’s health cannot be done in isolation. We have focused on four areas to improve stakeholder relations:
- Work with Industry to increase diversity in clinical trials;
- Work with minority serving institutions and organizations to implement strategies and programs to improve regulatory science (specific to minorities);
- Provide platforms for stakeholders to become informed and involved about our work; and,
- Host and promote mentoring programs to encourage minorities to stay in scientific and academic careers.
Data Development and Research Agenda
We have a robust research agenda that focuses on advancing regulatory science related to eliminating health disparities. The agenda consists of various intramural and extramural grant programs, giving preference to minority-serving institutions. FDA also promotes and funds research that aims to increase the quantity, and improve the quality, of data on minorities, and to make these efforts transparent to the public.
In short: FDA has been and will continue to be committed to narrowing the health disparities gap. OMH will continue our legacy of creating culturally and linguistically tailored tools, materials, and resources for minority communities to increase their awareness and understanding of FDA’s mission and of the products that FDA regulates, increase their participation in clinical trials, and increase diversity in the workforce. This ensures better representation in the workforce, and most importantly: better health for all minorities!
More information about specific programs can be found on our website.
The Heckler Report can be found at: http://collections.nlm.nih.gov/catalog/nlm:nlmuid-8602912-mvset.
Jonca Bull, M.D., is Director of FDA’s Office of Minority Health