Health disparities initiatives

Dr. Rowley (l) with students

Dr. Rowley (l) with students

The Department of Maternal and Child Health is committed to the mission of reducing health disparities in the population we serve in our state, our nation, and around the world.

Many of the determinants of disparities in racial/ethnic healthcare and health outcomes are cultural, economic, historical, and political in nature, collectively considered to be fundamental social causes. Better science is available by creating sophisticated interdisciplinary concepts of the relationship between social processes and health. Advancing public health practice is possible through community partnered investigation, learning, and action. The program:

  • Conducts research that explains how the social environment contributes to racial/ethnic health disparities.
  • Increases academic/community partnerships in research and policy making that stimulates rapid gains in health equity.
  • Translates this body of knowledge and action into conceptually sound, replicable and accessible models that systematically address social determinants of disparity.

In the early 1990′s Diane Rowley, Professor of the Practice in Public Health worked with colleagues to develop a conceptual framework for research on the health disparities that affect women and infants. That framework suggested that “viewing the person in the context of a social environment in which social behavior, cultural, historical, political, and economic forces influence health and disease. Gender, race, and social class thus affect a woman’s health, and each is associated with pregnancy outcome.” Between 1990 and 2002, a group of CDC researchers, initially directed by Diane, then later by Dr. Vijaya Hogan, guided the development of research that used this framework. Applying that framework to the MCH Disparities Program is promising in the efforts to address this goal.

Vijaya Hogan, Clinical Associate Professor is conducting a longitudinal ethnographic research project, Eliminating Disparities in Interconceptional Care (EDIC) Study, to better understand the unique exposures in the social context of African American women’s lives and specific mechanisms for how these impact on health.

Dr. Rowley and Dr. Hogan are working together to partner with existing community-based organizations and women in the community to develop a workgroup that will generate a strategy for delivering interconceptional care. The workgroup combines the results of EDIC with community knowledge of the local health care delivery system and community assets into a model for intervening on the underlying social factors that inhibit participation in interconceptional care. Subsequently, they plan to use community participatory research methods to test the model.

Read about other initiatives to eliminate health disparities in the School.