Bringing it all together

I have reached the end of my assignment and I want to try and sum everything up.  As I mentioned in my first post I have had a privileged life.  I grew up in a good home with good parents; I have always had the necessities.  I received a good education and I will graduate from college in less than a year.  I chose the topic of health disparities because I feel that it is everyone’s right to have a clean environment, good foods to eat, a proper education and health. 

For me it took a trip to India volunteering with Rising Star Outreach to really understand the different conditions that people live in.  It was only after seeing that extreme poverty that I was able to see the poverty in my own backyard.  I hope that people can see from this blog that inequalities in health are not just a problem in the developing world.  It is a problem in our own country, in our own states, in our own cities.  It is only through the determination of people that we will be able to make the social and environmental changes necessary to remove these disparities from our system.  Hopefully I have done my job in inspiring you at least a little to take action. 

As I finish off my blog I would like to reiterate my determination to help those around me.  I feel this an appropriate time to say that I feel strongly in alleviating the suffering of others.  I grew up in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and feel that being a part of this church has further influenced me to look at my neighbors and see what I can do to help them.  Although I do not as of yet know where my career will lead me, the one thing I am sure about is that I have a passion to help others and would like to work where I can help to relieve the disparities which are in the world today.   

Although these two things have little to do with health disparities I mentioned them in the blog so if you would like to learn more information about Rising Star Outreach or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints please follow the links.

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Inequality=Unfair

In a 2007 California newsreel I was shocked to find focus groups held by the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation showed that most people felt that health inequalities were due to behaviors, genes and nature, and therefor unfortunate but not unfair.  I would like to say that this is an incorrect way of thinking.  Studies have shown that inequalities in health can be linked to unequal social and economic conditions which are systemic and avoidable making them inherintly unfair.

The unnatural causes series, which I mentioned earlier, further explains that health is more than just healthcare.  It is more than genes, more than reaction to behaviors and more than just nature health is directly affected by resources, stress, economomic and political inequality, social policies, and class inequalities.

I strongly urge anyone who misunderstands or is confused by the terms health equity, health disparities or minority health to view the unnatural causes series.  And do more research into the burden that these inequalities place on not only our health system but our businesses and society as a whole.  If we really want to make a difference in the health of American citizens we don’t need a health care overhaul, we need improved understanding of health inequalities and how they can be removed from our society.

Disparities in the Workplace

As I was searching the web I came across an article, “Employers Target Racial, Ethnic Health Disparities”, this article talks about how employers are working to overcome health disparities.  Businesses invest millions of dollars in health prevention and wellness programs for their employees but because of racial and ethnic difference sometimes one program does not fit everyone.  As shown in the article employers use these initiatives to increase productivity and if they want to reach everyone they need to be specific in their approaches to include different minority groups into their programs who may have a different culture or understanding of health.

At the end of the article they gave some statistics about the different racial groups and what types of things they are more likely to be affected by and what companies can do.  For example, black women are more likely to die from breast cancer than white women, in part because the former have lower screening rates and are diagnosed at later stages of the disease.  So something a company with many black employees can do is having free breast cancer screenings for their employees.  This gives just a taste of how disparities affect us and how they need to be treated for in the work place.

For more articles on current problems with health disparities visit Kaiser Alert.

American Indians

One of the groups in the United States who suffer from the most disparities are the American Indians.  A recent article in the New York Times, “New Hopes on Healthcare for American Indians”, talks about the increased initiative President Obama has taken to give added support to the Indian health system.

American Indians suffer from not having enough doctors and not having enough equipment and this is just the start of the problem.  They also suffer from increased rates of heart disease and diabetes, and do not get the proper are needed to control these diseases.  Congress is hoping that in the new bill they will be able to increase the number of Indians who are insured and get care by subsidizing private insurance or expanding Medicaid.

For more information on initiatives to help decrease the disparities associated with American Indians visit Indian Health Services.  Their aim is to raise the physical, mental, social, and spiritual health of American Indians and Alaska Natives to the highest level and to assure that comprehensive, culturally acceptable personal and public health services are available and accessible to American Indian and Alaska Native people.

Health Advocacy Summit

About a month ago I went to a Health Advocacy Summit in Washington D.C.  At the conference we talked a lot about the importance of education in preventing chronic diseases and keeping people healthy.  We then went to Capitol hill and met with our different legislatures asking them to help support a few different programs that would make health education more of a priority in our schools to combat the rise of heart disease and diabetes that is seen the United States.

One of the programs we talked about is the REACH program which stands for Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health.  This program specifically works to eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities using community based participatory approaches to make policy, system and environmental changes. 

It was really interesting to learn about some of the different programs in the United States to help eliminate disparities and help make people healthier because it is a lot easier and less expensive to prevent chronic diseases then to treat them.  I really felt honored to be able to advocate for these programs and try to work to make a difference in my community.

My Community

I have been living in Provo, Utah for the past 3 years and I have always thought of it as a non-diverse area, but the truth is it really isn’t.  According to Utah Department of Health, about 330,000 Utahns speak a language other than English and about 140,000 Utahns do not speak English very well.  The top three other languages are Spanish, Chinese, Somoan/ Tongan or other Pacific Island languages. 

I also found an organization called Comunidades Unidas.  This group recently had a conference with over 300 members from Utah’s community that got together to voice their opinions to legislatures and policy makers about finding solutions to health disparities.  Some of these solutions include language interpretation in hospitals and helping people understand how they can apply for Medicare.  The Hispanic community also works to deal with health disparities by using tobacco cessation programs, providing pre-natal services and substance abuse programs.

Natural Disasters

Natural Disasters have been on the top of everyone’s mind since the devastating effects of the earthquake in Haiti.  Although it is hard to say that the destruction could have been prevented, the death and destruction was definitely heightened by the poverty and lack of resources that were already present in the country.  As stated by Russel L. Honore in the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, “How you survive a disaster is directly proportional to what you were doing before it.”

When a disaster strikes the people who are affected the most are the unprepared.  Health disparities is just one of the aspects that keeps people from being prepared, but it is a large factor.  When hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans the large pockets of poverty were hit the hardest.  As many hospitals were destroyed medical attention was hard to come by, free clinics were destroyed and the poor no longer had a place to receive care.  Even today five years later for these empoverished people health care is even harder to come by.

The biggest lesson we learn from this is that when need to become prepared.  Reducing health disparities and the inaccess to care that people have is one way that we can help prevent deaths from disasters in the future.  But being prepared is not just for the poor we all need to be prepared.  We need to become more self-sufficient and self-reliant and not wait for someone else to come to our rescue this will only create more victims in the time of disaster.

Some ideas of how to be prepared from FEMA for a disaster are:

  • Get informed about hazards and emergencies that may affect you and your family.
  • Develop an emergency plan.
  • Collect and assemble disaster supplies kit.
  • Learn where to seek shelter from all types of hazards.
  • Identify the community warning systems and evacuation routes.
  • Include in your plan required information from community and school plans.
  • Learn what to do for specific hazards. · Practice and maintain your plan.