Eliminating health disparities

Early screening is essential in identifying many cancers.

Early screening is essential in identifying many cancers.

The UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health has been engaged in overcoming health disparities since its earliest days. Overcoming health disparities is one of the School’s highest priorities. Faculty members across our School are leading studies to understand the nature of health disparities, improve health behaviors, reduce disease risk, create more equitable access to health services, and translate what we have learned into policies, teaching and practice. We work in close collaboration with communities in North Carolina and the US to overcome barriers to good health for all. Our students also are making a difference through organizations such as the Minority Student Caucus and the annual Minority Health Conference they have sponsored for the past 30 years.

This work is critical. Racial and ethnic minorities continue to suffer a heavier burden of illness, disability and early death due to health disparities. African-American infants are twice as likely as white babies to die in their first year of life. Rates of diabetes in Latinos, African-Americans, American Indians and some Asian groups far exceed that of whites. African-American women are 24 times more likely to have HIV than white women. Breast cancer is deadlier in black women younger than 55 than it is in white women in the same age group. These and other disparities – in cancer, cardiovascular disease and stroke, and many other preventable conditions – account for billions of dollars in healthcare expenses every year and ultimately keep our nation as a whole from achieving its full potential.

A few examples of our flagship programs include the following:

Training: 
Interdisciplinary Certificate in Health Disparities, administered by ECHO. This ten-hour course equips professionals working in culturally diverse settings to play a leading role in reducing health disparities through community action, public health practice and policy.

Events: 
The student-led Minority Health Conference, held each spring and now in its 30th year. This conference is one of the largest student-run health conferences in the country and regularly attracts over 500 participants, including students, faculty, researchers, public health and human services professionals, and community leaders from North Carolina and surrounding states.

The annual Summer Research Institute and Videoconference on Minority Health, which brings together the latest research on health disparities for a state and national audience. The Minority Health Project uses event broadcasts and networking to raise the profile of the Minority Student Caucus and other diversity activities at UNC and nationally.

Translational Research:

Health disparities in women and infants
Diane Rowley, MD, MPH, Professor of the Practice of Public Health, has developed a framework that looks at social, cultural, historical, political and economic influences on pregnancy outcome. Vijaya Hogan, DrPH, clinical associate professor of maternal and child health, is conducting longitudinal ethnographic research to understand African- American women’s unique exposure to risks and inequities related to interconceptional care.They will partner with women in the community to combine the School’s research findings with community knowledge of the local health care delivery system to improve access and uptake of interconceptional care among minority women.

Our strengths are notable in several specific areas:

  • Cancer – Studies of how to reduce disparities in incidence and long-term survival from colorectalbreastprostate and head and neck cancers. These programs place heavy emphasis on community-based interventions, such as the School’s innovative use of barber shops, beauty shops and faith communities to promote screening and healthy lifestyles.
  • Heart disease and stroke – Church-based programs to improve cardiovascular screening and care for minority men; epidemiological research to understand health disparity impact on disease incidence and mortality.
  • Diabetes - Self-empowerment in diabetes self-care.
  • Diet and obesity – Working with Black congregations to improve eating patterns among African-Americans, tackling obesity in children through environmental and policy change, and investigating the way mothers care for and feed their infants.
  • Aging - Caring for Alzheimer’s patients in disadvantaged communities.
  • Environment and health – The effect of hog waste and sewage sludge on the health of poor communities, coupled with community education and empowerment.
  • Impact of health disparities on men’s health.

Partnerships: 
Carolina-Shaw Partnership for the Elimination of Health Disparities. This partnership between the School and Shaw University, the oldest historically Black university in the South, aims to tackle health disparities at research, service and policy levels.

ECHO - The UNC Program on Ethnicity, Culture and Health Outcomes is a cross-university program led by public health and medicine to eliminate health status and health outcomes disparities through translatable, evidence-based research, multidisciplinary training and education and culturally sensitive services to North Carolina.

Hispanic Community Health Study - a multi-center, multi-year study to identify the cultural and behavioral factors that influence disease development in the Hispanic community. The School is coordinating the study, which involves four partner universities.

Explore other examples of our health disparities programs: