Advancing Science and Building a Healthier Society

By: Theresa Castillo

Knowledge and education are critical, but “passion and perseverance” are also needed to eliminate health disparities, Assistant Health and Human Services Secretary Howard Koh, M.D., told a group gathered to pursue the goal of better health for all.

Dr. Koh’s call for even greater commitment was issued to more than 4,500 people who attended the Summit on the Science of Eliminating Health Disparities at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention just outside of the nation’s capital in December 2012. Since then, individuals and groups around the nation have returned to their jobs with new information gained from some of the more than 100 workshops that explored emerging sciences, policies and practices that can help eliminate health disparities that disproportionately affect minority groups.

Here at FDA, we are now in the midst of collaborating with the National Institutes of Health to publish recommendations and best practices that were highlighted at the summit and worthy of adoption on a broader scale. Articles published in peer reviewed journals also will be available at FDA’s Office of Minority Health Web site later this year.

The summit was led by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities and co-sponsored by FDA’s Office of Minority Health and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Leaders in government, academia, business, medicine, science and public policy joined with advocates and others in the community to learn, share and build new alliances.

The ultimate goal: to share creative and innovative solutions that can be adopted widely to improve health in theU.S.and around the world.

The work on health disparities arises from a critical need. For example, African American men are 2.4 times more likely to die from prostate cancer than non-Hispanic white men, 10 times more likely to die of AIDS, and 60% more likely to die of stroke. Native American women are almost twice as likely to die of diabetes than non-Hispanic white women. And while Asian and Pacific Islanders are less than 5 percent of the population, they account for more than 50% of Americans living with chronic Hepatitis B and associated liver cancer.

The numbers reflect a complex web of causes, including unequal access to health care, environmental issues, genetic differences and lifestyle, to name a few. These variables and more were addressed at the summit.

The breadth of the effort is exemplified by listing even a few of the more than 100 workshop and roundtable titles: “Approaches for Identifying and Addressing Environment Health Disparities,” “Public Policies and Strategies to Address Obesity Prevention,” and “Reducing Health Disparities through Innovation.”

The summit brought together some of the nation’s foremost experts. Speakers included former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan, M.D., NIH director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.,  Mary Woolley, head of Research!America,  Kira Fortune, Ph.D. of the Pan American Health Organization, and David Fukuzawa of the Kresge Foundation.

The energy, commitment and knowledge gathered in one place left me inspired and convinced that together, we are on a path that will lead to improving health for all.

Theresa Castillo is a public health advisor in FDA’s Office of Minority Health