Eliminating Health Disparities
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 at 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 United States to overcome barriers to good health for all. Our students are also making a difference through organizations such as the Minority Student Caucus (MSC) and the annual Minority Health Conference (MHC), which MSC has sponsored for more than 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 Caucasian babies to die in their first year of life. Rates of diabetes in Latinos, African-Americans, American Indians and Asians far exceed that of Caucasians. African-American women are 24 times more likely to have HIV than Caucasian women. Breast cancer is deadlier in black women younger than 55 years of age than it is in white women in the same age group. These and other disparities – in cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke and many other preventable conditions – account for billions of dollars in healthcare expenses every year and ultimately keep our nation from achieving its full potential.
A few examples of our flagship programs include the following:
The Interdisciplinary Certificate in Health Disparities, administered by ECHO, is a 10-hour course that equips professionals working in culturally diverse settings to play a leading role in reducing health disparities through community action, public health practice and policy.
The student-led Minority Health Conference is held each spring and is almost in its 40th year. This conference is one of the largest student-run health conferences in the country and regularly attracts more than 500 participants including students, faculty, researchers, public health and human services professionals and community leaders from North Carolina and surrounding states. The annual National Health Equity Research Webcast brings together the latest research on health disparities for a state and national audience, and the Minority Health Project uses event broadcasts and networking to raise the profile of the Minority Student Caucus and other diversity activities at UNC-Chapel Hill and nationally.
Our faculty have researched health disparities in women and infants. Diane Rowley, MD, MPH, former professor of the practice of public health, 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, conducted longitudinal ethnographic research to understand African-American women’s unique exposure to risks and inequities related to interconceptional care. They 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 other specific areas including:
- Cancer – We conduct studies of how to reduce disparities in incidence and long-term survival from colorectal, breast, prostate 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 – Our church-based programs aim to improve cardiovascular screening and care for minority men, and we conduct epidemiological research to understand health disparity impact on disease incidence and mortality.
- Diabetes – We promote self-empowerment in diabetes self-care.
- Diet and obesity – We work with black congregations to improve eating patterns among African-Americans, tackle obesity in children through environmental and policy change and investigate the way mothers care for and feed their infants.
- Aging – We care for patients with Alzheimer’s disease in disadvantaged communities.
- Environment and health – We research the effect of hog waste and sewage sludge on the health of poor communities as well as community education and empowerment.
- Men’s health – Our research uncovers the impact of health disparities on men’s health.
We partner with other programs at the University and other schools in the nation. Some of our partnerships include:
- 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 – This is 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.