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National Minority Health Awareness Month
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The National Minority Quality Forum launched the first National Minority Health Month in April 2001. Its goal is to inform and educate emerging minority populations about disease prevention and cure. Scheduled events are designed to increase the understanding of diverse cultural differences within the context of prevailing health-related values and beliefs. A national focus on disparities in health status is essential to implement changes in health care delivery. Health care is a cultural construct, arising from beliefs about the nature of disease and the human body. These integrated human behavior patterns include language, customs, and beliefs. Cultural issues are at the core of wellness, health service treatment and preventive interventions. They influence how the patient and the health care provider perceive illness, disease, causes and cures. Proven over time and still one of the best ways to reach these populations is direct mail. Some “minority populations” are emerging as the majority in major geographic areas. By 2050, the Census reports, the United States will have no clear majority population group. Our national tapestry will continue to be woven with diverse cultural, ethnic, and racial threads. Unfortunately still, at times, these groups experience poorer disease control and limited health care options. They have the highest rates of disability and premature death. Recently the University of Texas and Brigham and Women’s Hospital both found that Hispanic women can be at three times the risk for a pre-term baby delivery. Similar statistics for African American mothers. Cancer is the second leading cause of death for most racial and ethnic minorities. It is the number one killer for Asians. African American men are over twice as likely to die from prostate cancer as White men are. Black women are more likely to die of breast cancer than any other group; Hispanic women have the highest incidence rate for cervical cancer. These statistics reflect genetic variations, environmental factors, and the cultural and linguistic traits that create and influence specific health behaviors. However, even when minorities have similar levels of access to care, health insurance and education, they often receive poor quality care. This may be a result of inadequate patient to provider communication or provider discrimination. One objective of National Minority Health Month is to develop a clearer understanding of cultural competence. This ability to value and incorporate the cultural differences of diverse populations can create a health care system that serves the unique needs of populations whose cultures may be different from the prevailing culture. This month also addresses the issues surrounding minority under-representation in interventional and observational clinical trials. Recruiting and retaining participants remains a problem due to lack of cultural competency by the provider and distrust of the health care system by minority group members. Hispanics are particularly affected because they are the largest minority group without medical insurance. These influencers affect valid analysis and outcomes of the studies and dilute what constitutes effective and safe care for these groups. The cornerstone of this campaign is overcoming minority group barriers through community awareness, education and involvement. The costs (financial and human) associated with patient noncompliance are staggering and very well documented. Understanding ethnicity, language preference and country of origin can influence — for the positive. New technologies and applications are coming, but true understanding and respect of these populations are what will continue to make a difference. National Minority Health Month hopes to raise awareness of disparity and the need to include all groups in health care education, policies, and programs. Inclusion of marginalized groups in the decision making process creates a health care system that benefits all groups well into this century and beyond — plus it can be good business as well.

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