Building Healthy Communities

It is time to eliminate the racial and ethnic health disparities gap that exists in the United States. As we enter a new era of leadership with unprecedented challenges, this becomes even more critical. President Obama is to be applauded for his leadership in ensuring that health reform continues to be at the forefront of his priorities and agenda. Indeed, the economic success and the health and well-being of the people of this country are inextricably tied. That is why we must respond to and support the President’s call to action on health reform.

Health is at the core of every aspect of American life. The health disparities faced by people of color, if not adequately addressed, will significantly hamper the growth and prosperity of their communities and ultimately of this country.

Latinos in the United States, for example, are disproportionately affected by a number of diseases in comparison to the mainstream population. The sad thing is that many of these diseases are preventable. The 2007 National Healthcare Disparities Report shows that 56% of the disparities in quality of care for Hispanics are not getting smaller.

In fact, Hispanics had the lowest number of core health care access measures that are not improving.

Major healthcare disparities exist in the U.S. between non-Hispanic whites and Hispanic populations, with a growing prevalence of disease and reduced access to the treatment of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, infant mortality and stroke.

One of the starkest inequities that Latinos face is the lack of health coverage. The uninsured rate for U.S. Hispanics, at 32%, is one of the highest of any group. That means that many Hispanic families must forgo even the most basic primary and preventive health services. Inevitably, the Hispanic health coverage gap results in higher costs for treating diseases in their advanced stages. Any healthcare reform must include access to quality and affordable healthcare for all. To that end, the Latinos for National Health Insurance under the leadership of Dr. Jaime Torres present strategies that support this effort.

Culturally and linguistically competent preventive health education is another important component of any effort aimed at reducing health disparities in the Hispanic community.

Celebra La Vida con Salud, a national Hispanic health education campaign, is addressing Hispanic health disparities through culturally and linguistically aligned health education curricula and teaching materials. During the past 8 years, the Celebra campaign has seen the impact that low health literacy can have on the ability of Hispanic families to access health care. Consequently, even Hispanics with health coverage are sometimes unaware of the health care services that might be available to them. For this reason, Celebra has endeavored to create culturally appropriate education programs and materials that resonate with the values, attitudes and social/economic realities of Hispanic families.

The Celebra Health Access Network, composed of community-based organizations, health clinics, hospitals and hospital systems, universities, and medical schools, private and federal institutions together bring much needed resources and services to their communities. In 2008 alone, Celebra provided over $5 million dollars in free medical screening services, while connecting some of the most underserved Hispanics to free or low cost healthcare services---mostly at community-based health centers that conduct follow-up consultations.

These community-based health organizations are providing much needed care to Latinos throughout the country. Yet many of these entities are sorely underfunded and do not have the adequate resources to fully deliver both education and healthcare. It is imperative that we support these institutions, for they provide some of the most cost-effective health care available.

Latinos must reach out in support of these organizations and must also urge their congressional representatives to uphold their commitment to ending the racial and ethnic health disparities. Getting communities, policy makers, and public and private institutions to make the necessary improvements in our health care system will result in a significant return on investment. As we remove the health gap in America, we will improve the viability of our economy and our competitiveness around the world.

Carmen Ramos-Watson is President/CEO of QMRI and Executive Director of Celebra La Vida Con Salud. For more information, go to