Hundreds of people attended the Communities United Against Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities Forum held on March 27th at the UIC Forum. The forum was organized by a collaborative of Latino and African American community based organizations with the support of the Illinois Department of Human Services to call for actions to eliminate Illinois’ growing racial and ethnic health disparities. Health disparities are the gaps that exist between the health status of the non-Hispanic white majority, which continues to improve, compared to the health status of Latinos and African Americans, which continues to decline.
During the past 50 years, the United States has benefited greatly from advances in medicine, environmental protection, diseases control, and health promotion strategies. Unfortunately, racial and ethnic groups have not benefited equally from these advances. Latino and African American communities, in particular, are disproportionately affected by disease, disability and death. The U.S Department of Health and Human Services has identified six major areas in which racial and ethnic minorities experience serious disparities in health access and outcomes – diabetes, heart disease and stroke, cancer, infant mortality, child and adult immunization and HIV/AIDS. As a starting point, the forum examined the issues of Diabetes/Obesity, Substance Abuse/Mental Health, and HIV/AIDS affecting Latinos and African Americans in Illinois.
Historically, efforts to address the disproportionate rates of illness and death among Latinos and African Americans have been limited to calls for increased access to health care, which is in fact needed. However, research has shown that access to health care alone is not enough to improve the health status of Latinos and African Americans. Powerful social, economic, and environmental factors known as Social Determinants of Health must be addressed, as well. The Institute of Medicine has said that “It is unreasonable to expect people will change behavior easily when so many forces in the social, cultural, and physical environment conspire against such change.” Clearly, the health of the individual cannot be separated from the health of the broader community. It is these social determinants of health that the forum called for the State of Illinois to include in any future public health interventions intended to improve the health status of Latinos and African Americans.[/lang_en]