Mission Possible: Moving the Needle Forward to Advance Health Equity

By: CAPT Richardae Araojo

Every April our country observes National Minority Health Month to spotlight what we’re doing to eliminate health disparities among minority populations. A health disparity is a particular type of health difference that is closely linked with social and economic disadvantage, discrimination, or exclusion. We strive for what we call health equity―the attainment of the highest level of health for all people―by enlisting a range of approaches to remove the social and economic obstacles to health faced by racial and ethnic groups.

CAPT AraojoAs the Director of FDA’s Office of Minority Health (OMH), I lead cross-agency efforts with my team to protect, promote, and advance the public health of our country’s most vulnerable and underrepresented populations. OMH does this in many ways. For example, we:

  • Conduct and fund research on diseases that disproportionately affect minorities, like HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and heart disease.
  • Work to diversify the public health workforce by training principal investigators and pharmacists from diverse backgrounds, such as African Americans, Hispanics, American Indians/Alaska Natives, and Asian Americans and other Pacific Islanders, who can relate to research volunteers and patients from underserved communities. Research shows that people want their health professionals to look like them, so a workforce that reflects the demographics of the community it serves is vital.
  • Help minorities make better informed health decisions by creating culturally and linguistically tailored health education materials for use across different social media platforms.
  • Engage with minority-serving institutions of higher learning to protect and improve the health of the populations they serve.
  • Serve as a voice for those in need by encouraging all our constituents to participate in the work that we do. One example is the inaugural FDA Rural Health Symposium, a cross-Agency effort among OMH, the Office of Health and Constituent Affairs, and the Center for Tobacco Products, with participation from other FDA product centers. The symposium offered stakeholders from rural and tribal communities a forum to discuss how we can work together to address rural health challenges that range from the opioid crisis and tobacco use among youth to the need for telemedicine.

In the spirit of this year’s theme for National Minority Health Month, Partnering for Health Equity, I’d like to share a couple of other ways we’ve been partnering with private- and public-sector organizations to further equity on all fronts.

Getting culturally sensitive messages out to minority communities

My office conducts robust communications and outreach activities to share research and information on FDA-regulated products and to promote public health. For instance, Asian Americans, African Americans, and Latinos have lower immunization rates for adult vaccinations like herpes zoster, whooping cough, hepatitis B, and influenza. To better understand these disparities, OMH is supporting a study to assess the impact of advertising and promotional labeling as it relates to vaccine health disparities. OMH has message-tested FDA’s communications with consumer panels, among others, and we’re using the information from this research to shape FDA’s health education materials and outreach to minority communities.

Ensuring minority representation in clinical trials

Ensuring minority representation in clinical trials is crucial to improving minority health because we need to understand how different racial and ethnic groups respond to medical products before they are approved for use in the broad population. To that end, FDA developed guidance for industry and FDA staff. This guidance provides recommendations on using a standardized approach for collecting and reporting race and ethnicity data used to support marketing applications for FDA-regulated medical products.

OMH also works collaboratively with organizations whose mission includes encouraging more minorities to participate in clinical trials. We’ve partnered with the Veteran Health Administration’s Office of Health Equity to launch two videos featuring veterans talking about why diverse representation is so important. These veterans will also appear in the first installment of our new podcast series on health equity and disparities to share their experiences as participants in clinical trials.

Another important partnership involves our newly formed memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Yale University. Under this MOU, we’ll be working to advance scientific collaborations, outreach, and educational initiatives. Especially exciting is the cultural ambassador’s program, which will engage community members to get more involved in clinical research.

In sum, to create a world where health equity is a reality for all we must involve all stakeholders in new ways of thinking and working. And that requires the kind of teamwork, partnerships, and collaboration across disciplines, experiences, and sectors that I’ve shared with you here.

Visit www.fda.gov/minorityhealth for more information on FDA’s Office of Minority Health, and follow us on Twitter @FDAOMH for updates.

CAPT Richardae Araojo is FDA’s Associate Commissioner for Minority Health

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