Plan seeks decrease in racial health disparities

Mike Zacharias

When it comes to health care in the United States, Minnesota consistently ranks near the top.

However, a closer look at the statistics reveals serious racial disparities in both new cancer cases and cancer deaths, said Minnesota Department of Health officials.

The department launched Tuesday, at the start of a two-day conference dealing with the issue, Minnesota’s $13.9 million initiative to eliminate health disparities .

“(Minorities) have significantly worse health statistics than other Minnesotans,” Gov. Jesse Ventura said to more than 500 health care officials, practitioners and community leaders. “As governor, I want us to acknowledge our problem, get to the root of the situation and fix it.”

U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher’s speech via satellite concerning the racial disparities in health care across the United States highlighted Tuesday’s events.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health statistics, when compared to white Minnesotans, the breast cancer death rate for black women is 50 percent higher, although the incidence is similar.

Cervical cancer rates are three times as high in American Indian and Asian women, and four times as likely in black women.

Lung cancer death rates double for black men and all American Indians.

The rate of newly-diagnosed prostate cancer for black men is one-third higher, but the death rate is close to 2 1/2 times higher.

“There are many, many reasons why disparities exist,” said John Stieger, director of communications for the department of health. “Some of them have to do with social conditions, such as income and community support of one another; some of them have to do with access to health care.”

Stieger said the initiative will be aimed at the neighborhood level, allowing people to work with other members of their community.

“Probably the most fruitful strategy is definitely community education and community outreach,” Stieger said. “Not only to share information about what health concerns are but also to let people know in the communities where resources are available and how to obtain those resources.”

The two-year initiative focuses on reducing health disparities in seven areas: breast and cervical cancer screening, infant mortality, cardiovascular disease prevention, diabetes, sexually transmitted diseases, immunizations and violence and injury.

Grants will be made available on a competitive basis to community and health care organizations that apply.

“Once we’ve awarded the actual dollars to the organizations, they will be able to start implementing the strategies that they’ve developed,” Stieger said.

 

Mike Zacharias welcomes comments at [email protected]