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FOR RELEASE: April 16, 2002
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

National Minority Health Month Calls Attention to Health Disparities

During April, National Minority Health Month (NMHM), the National Office of Minority Health and the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) are calling attention to the need to eliminate health disparities and improve health status in minority populations.

“NMHM will help raise awareness of and implement initiatives to reduce the problem of minority health disparities. The national initiative will focus on the health needs of African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, Alaskan Natives, and Native Hawaiians,” said Demetrio Gutierrez, chief of the OSDH Office of Minority Health. “Some of the local issues receiving attention include cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, infant mortality, and immunizations,” he said.

The OSDH will focus on improving health education to eliminate health disparities in:

  • Cancer - African American women are more likely to die of breast cancer than women of any other ethnic groups. New cases of female breast cancer are increasing among Hispanics, who are diagnosed at later stages and have lower survival rates than white women. Cervical cancer is the 10th most common cancer among females in the U.S. The number of new cases of cervical cancer is higher among racial and ethnic minority females than white females. Prostate cancer, the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer in males, has the highest mortality rates among African American men.
  • Cardiovascular (Heart) Disease - The heart disease rate is higher in the African American population than in the white population. Coexisting conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes influence the mortality rates in racial and ethnic groups.
  • Diabetes - Racial and ethnic communities suffer a greater burden of diabetes for four reasons: greater susceptibility to disease, greater number of cases of diabetes, inadequate access to proper diabetes prevention and control programs, and improper quality of care.
  • HIV/AIDS - In the U.S., although 55 percent of the reported AIDS cases occurred among African Americans and Hispanics, these two populations represent an estimated 13 percent and 12 percent, respectively, of the total U.S. population.
  • Child and Adult Immunization - Effort is needed to increase vaccination coverage for children living in large urban areas with traditionally underserved populations. Influenza vaccination rates for adults show that Hispanics and African Americans remain substantially below the general population with whites at 66 percent in 1997, African Americans at 45 percent, and Hispanics at 53 percent.
  • Infant Mortality - American and Hispanic women are less likely than white women to enter prenatal care early. The 1997 infant mortality rate among African American infants was 2.3 times higher than for white infants. Also, American Indians, Alaskan Natives, and African Americans account for significantly more fetal alcohol syndrome deaths.

A recent study released by the Institute of Medicine disclosed that racial and ethnic minorities in the U.S. receive lower quality health care than whites, even when their insurance and income are the same. The study concluded that the disparities contribute to higher death rates among minorities from cancer, heart disease, diabetes and HIV infection. Minorities are less likely to be given appropriate medications and receive less desirable medical procedures.

The study recommended more education of patients, health care providers, insurance companies and policy-makers. Also, the study calls for additional research to understand how stereotypes affect medical decisions and health care, increasing the number of minority doctors and health care providers to serve in minority and medically underserved communities, and using interpreters for patients who do not speak English.

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