April is Minority Health Month!
(text and graphics respectfully taken from https://BlackHealthMatters.com in solidarity)
National Minority Health Month is here, bringing with it new programs, resources, and communications from the FDA’s Office of Minority Health and Health Equity (OMHHE). You probably have a lot of questions about its history, why and how we observe it, and how you can do your part to make a difference this April. Keep reading for those answers and more as we break down the importance of National Minority Health Month.
The History of National Minority Health Month
Raising awareness about minority health goes all the way back to 1915, when Booker T. Washington laid the foundation. National Negro Health Week (NNHW) focused on the poor living and working conditions that plagued mostly Black neighborhoods and employment opportunities.
From there, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) launched Healthy People 2010. This was the third iteration of this initiative, following previous ones in 1990 and 2000, and focused on eliminating health disparities across all ethnic minority groups.
Not long after, the US Congress called for an awareness month to promote the efforts currently underway and encourage further action to reduce the health disparities affecting minorities, establishing National Minority Health Month in April 2002.
Why Do We Celebrate It?
The goal of National Minority Health Month is to help “promote and protect the health of diverse populations through research and communication of science that addresses health disparities.” But what does this mean?
Throughout April, the FDA and other federal, state, and local agencies increase collaboration on a shared initiative, addressing health disparities through awareness and education. To better understand their goals and how they achieve them, you should know a few key concepts.
- Health equity is the equal opportunity to be healthy. While some ethnic minorities are predisposed to health conditions simply because of their race, they should have the same access to insurance coverage, medical care, community resources, language access, and health literacy that any other race has access to.
- Health disparities are the disproportionate health outcomes of one group of people compared to another because of health inequity. The Kaiser Family Foundation found that three months into the Covid-19 pandemic, almost triple the number of African Americans were hospitalized compared to white people and over twice as many had died. There were many underlying health disparities, like lower socioeconomic status and higher risk of other chronic health conditions that were not well managed.
- Health literacy is the understanding of a person’s health or the ability to find the information needed. It also includes the ability to understand the information they find, regardless of language and education barriers. Learning about clinical trials is just one part of health literacy, especially if a clinical trial applies to how your health condition may help both you and future patients.
National Minority Health Month aims to raise awareness of better health for all racial and ethnic minorities by advancing health equity, reducing health disparities, and improving health literacy.
What is This Year’s Theme?
This year’s theme is “Better Health Through Better Understanding.” While the OMHHE supports many initiatives year-round, this theme allows them to share the importance of one in particular. The Enhance Equity Initiative focuses on addressing the underrepresentation of minorities in clinical trials.
Previous National Minority Health Month themes include:
- “Give Your Community a Boost!” to encourage Covid-19 vaccination (2022)
- “Active and Healthy” to emphasize staying physically active and enhancing emotional wellness (2020)
- “Partnering for Health Equity” to raise awareness about current efforts to address the disproportionate burden of various ethnic groups in health care, housing, employment, and more (2018)
- “Accelerating Health Equity for the Nation” to create a better understanding of health disparities and how they affect racial groups (2016)
- “30 Years of Advancing Health Equity” celebrated 30 years of the Heckler Report, which helped to prove the existence of racial inequalities in health care (2015)
Why is This Important?
ProPublica published an analysis of a recent clinical trial of a medication used to treat Multiple Myeloma, a devastating blood cancer. While approximately 20% of all Multiple Myeloma patients in the US are African American, only 13 of the 722 participants in the clinical trial were Black. This is less than 2% of all participants. Because ethnic minority populations, especially Black people, seem to have a genetic predisposition to this cancer, it often leads to more severe disease complications, and they react differently to many treatment options, being so grossly underrepresented in a clinical trial may affect whether this medication is as effective for them as it is for the non-Hispanic Caucasian participants.
However, this new initiative may help raise awareness of these problems, so clinical trials include ethnic minority groups in appropriate numbers and document these participants’ results accurately. Researchers can then work toward improving health outcomes for minority populations, reducing disparities in treatment outcomes. With better communication between the FDA, other research agencies, and health providers, more minority communities can benefit from current and future clinical trials.
Conditions Affecting the Black Community
National Minority Health Month 2023 helps to raise awareness of the benefits of clinical trials through the “Better Health Through Better Understanding” initiative. Those affected by certain conditions may benefit from joining a clinical trial to both test new treatments and play a role in approving effective ones that may benefit many more patients in the future. Some conditions affect African Americans more than others and are, therefore, most important to have an accurate representation of the Black community involved.
Health education is vital to the prevention of most heart disease. Some clinical studies in the past have followed those without cardiovascular disease to see who would develop it and who wouldn’t be based on family history, lifestyle choices, and other factors. Learning what risk factors could be affected and to what degree has helped providers adjust treatment based on the health needs of their patients. Current and future clinical trials continue to research risk factors and treatment options, as it is the leading cause of death among all ages, genders, and races in the United States.
Closely tied to heart disease is the risk of stroke, which can lead to premature death in Black Americans and other minorities. It is vital that Blacks are accurately represented in clinical trials studying stroke because they are 50% more likely to have one. Black women are at the highest risk. Compared to non-Hispanic White people, over 70% more Blacks will die from their stroke. To truly understand the underlying causes of these health disparities and what can be done to address them, African Americans should be made aware of these clinical trials and encouraged to take part.
Prevention is key, but with so many risk factors, Type 2 diabetes may be unavoidable for some Black Americans. Diabetes comes with the risk of many disease complications, some of them life-threatening. There are ongoing clinical trials to help reduce these risks and perhaps reverse the condition. Every trial is different and may require participants in different stages of the disease or with varying demographics. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes and are interested in new treatment options, be sure to discuss the possibility of a clinical trial with your healthcare provider.
While cancer is a leading cause of death among all races, some forms are more prevalent among Blacks. These include breast, prostate, colorectal, and lung cancer. Through various studies over the last several decades, it’s been found that the increased risk for cancer can be linked to poor diet, especially common in low-income households; environmental pollution like smog and asbestos which are frequently seen in underprivileged neighborhoods; poor lifestyle choices like smoking that have much higher rates for Black men than for Caucasians; and family history. Clinical studies for cancer are likely specific to the type, so if you are diagnosed with cancer, discuss the possibility of participating in one with your oncologist or another specialist provider.
Sickle Cell Disease
Sickle cell anemia is most often seen in infants and is a medical emergency. There are some medications available to help control the sickling of red blood cells, decrease vascular blockages, control inflammation and pain, and reduce the chance of disease complications. However, some patients may need blood transfusions or bone marrow transplants to control the disease. There are ongoing clinical trials to help develop new treatment options to better manage or treat sickle cell disease that you or your child may qualify for.
A study published by the American Journal of Public Health found that Black men who have sex with men are 14 times more likely than non-Hispanic Whites to test positive for HIV. The number of Blacks currently living with HIV compared to Whites is nearly double and these numbers are continuing to worsen. The average age of initial infection is declining, meaning many Black men are reaching adulthood with HIV. Another study proved that many clinical trials do not accurately address minority health or even gender, although doing so is vital to improving outcomes from new HIV/AIDS treatments for African Americans and all ethnic minorities.
National Minority Health Month helps to raise awareness of the disproportionate burden that Black Americans face every year because of inequities in our health care system. By addressing disparities through easier access to resources and better representation in clinical trials, we may resolve these inequities soon. Black Health Matters support National Minority Health Month by supporting the well-being of African Americans through education and awareness.