The theme of this year’s National Minority Health Month is “Partnering for Health Equity.” This theme offers the public health community the opportunity to highlight partnerships at the federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial levels that focus on the disparities in health and healthcare. With only a few months left until the start of the 2018 hurricane season, a disaster that disproportionately impacts minorities based on geography, it is important to not just highlight the above partnerships, but also examine areas where attention and resources are still needed. By examining those areas, we can work to improve minority health and overall resilience to disasters.
In our work, we often pay focused attention to specific parts of the country, as there are regions which are significantly more impacted by events such as hurricanes, drought, and flooding. Regions such as the Gulf Coast, urban environments, and isolated areas such as the Great Plains and Alaska not only hold the highest probability of being impacted by a natural disaster or other events impacting public health, but also contain the highest concentration of minority populations. Only when the public health conversation is viewed in this lens will we be able to discuss the issue of health equity and not relapse into a conversation exclusively about health equality.
This year’s theme provides a great opportunity to restate the difference between health equality and health equity, and the reason that the focus on equity is so important. In disaster preparedness and response, incorporating health equality manifests as deploying the same amount, or type, of resources to help all areas impacted by hurricanes in any given year. An approach that incorporates health equity, however, would determine the amount of resources allocated to different areas based on the socioeconomic conditions leading up to the disaster. As evident the difference is, going forward this month, it is important to keep these differences in mind when discussing successful initiatives and remember that this distinction was not always so apparent, nor established. Though the term health equity has been around for more than 30 years, it was not until the turn of the century that public health policy started to focus on it through programs like HHS’s “Healthy People,” “the Minority Health and Health Disparities Research and Education Act,” and the “Strategic Plans to Reduce Health Disparities.”
With the difference between health equality and health equity in mind, we can move on to asking ourselves, “how do we accept the charge this National Minority Health Month?” National Minority Health Month is not only a time to celebrate our accomplishments but also a time to reflect on our work, in order to assess our alignment with our stated goals and, if need be, refocus them to make sure they are achieving the ultimate goal; to improve the health of minority communities.
While we are examining our existing programs, this provides the opportunity to ask ourselves not only if we are achieving our goals, but if the goals that we are setting are in line with the needs of, and serving, minority communities. We should take time this month to ask ourselves “How does our work move the needle?” That is, are we working enough on the equity part of health equity? Are we doing enough to reach out to minority communities in need? This month offers us the opportunity to address those questions by planning ahead and finding new innovative ways to serve minority communities.
With the above-mentioned points in mind, we should celebrate National Minority Health Month and this year’s theme. I look forward to highlighting Healthcare Ready’s efforts in partnering for health equity and celebrating the work that we have accomplished in addressing minority health issues in the coming weeks, while being mindful of the work that still needs to be finished.