African Americans in Maryland are three times more likely to die in infancy, twice as likely to die from diabetes, and much less likely to get flu vaccines than whites. The University of Maryland Center for Health Equity (M-CHE) is driving new efforts to eliminate such disparities—in the state and beyond—through a $5.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The new grant, awarded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), enables the M-CHE to conduct interventions designed to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in rates of diabetes, asthma, hypertension, infant mortality, obesity and vaccine preventable diseases. Based in the university's School of Public Health, the M-CHE is leading multidisciplinary collaborative teams focused on understanding the root causes of racial and ethnic health disparities, designing innovative solutions that promote health equity and creating best practice models that could be used in communities across the country.
"Our new funding and designation as an NIH Center of Excellence on Race, Ethnicity, and Health Disparities Research will enable us to make a great leap forward in the movement to eliminate health disparities," says Dr. Stephen B. Thomas, M-CHE director and professor of health services administration. "We have assembled a dynamic team of researchers throughout the School of Public Health and across the University of Maryland campus to lead research, education, training and outreach efforts."
"Eliminating health disparities is a top priority for the state of Maryland," says Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, Secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. "The Maryland Center for Health Equity is playing a critical role in this statewide effort and this NIH support will enable them to impact the lives of even more people in Maryland and beyond."
New research includes studying the cultural beliefs that fuel African Americans' distrust of medicine, resulting in lower vaccination rates for preventable diseases, and developing strategies to increase those rates. A second study will use the social networks in barbershops and beauty salons to help African-American women increase physical activity and reduce obesity, diabetes and related chronic diseases. A third study will launch a black men's health initiative with a focus on the role fathers can play in reducing infant mortality.
"Understanding the role of racism and discrimination in health disparities is key to our research design," says Dr. Sandra C. Quinn, associate dean for public health initiatives in the School of Public Health and M-CHE senior associate director. "Our work is also bolstered by state policies like the 2012 Maryland Health Improvement and Disparities Reduction Act. In Maryland, eliminating racial and ethnic health disparities is now the law."
In addition to the new research studies, senior investigators will also lead community outreach and engagement efforts, educational and training programs and the development of additional healthy public policy designed to address social determinants of health, such as poverty and racial housing segregation.
The M-CHE and its newly established Center of Excellence are based on the principles that health equity is a social justice issue and that access to the factors that lead to a healthy life must be equally available to all Marylanders.
The joint Principal Investigators, Drs. Thomas and Quinn, have over two decades of research experience working with racial and ethnic minority populations to translate best practices from medical science and public health practice into sustainable community-based programs to promote health and prevent disease.
February 27, 2013