Today marks the end of National Minority Health Month for 2014. What makes minority health so important? The sad fact is that there are many gaps in health care and health outcomes among people of different races, ethnicities, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation.
These gaps are called health disparities and they exist for a number of reasons. Overall, minorities are at a higher risk of suffering from chronic diseases. Unfortunately, chronic diseases happen to be one of the leading causes of mortality in the United States.
So, why do health disparities exist? Ethnicity, income, level of education, language, access to health screenings, health behaviors, and different environments are some of the many contributors to health disparities. For example, a low-income individual may have to work multiple jobs to afford his or her living expenses. As a result, he or she may not have time to see a doctor for preventive care.
Someone who relies on the public transportation system may only have access to clinics or health centers that are located along the bus route. Someone who does not speak or understand English very well may not feel confident enough to seek health care for fear of judgment or embarrassment.
A family may live in a neighborhood with no sidewalks and inadequate streetlights, so they don’t feel safe enough to go outside and take a walk together. These are just a few examples of the different factors that can influence the ability or willingness to seek care or medical attention.
Accessibility and availability of health care is an important element in reducing health disparities. People with access to health care are more likely to use it, are more likely to prevent diseases or catch them early on, and are more likely to get treated effectively when they do get sick or injured. Lack of access to much needed health care is one of the main reasons that people of some ethnicities are more likely to get diagnosed with a certain disease or die from that disease.
If everyone had access to the same quality health care, meaning that they received the same level of preventive care and treatment for illness, then we wouldn’t have groups of people who lived shorter lives or groups of people with higher infant mortality rates.
The bottom line is that health disparities are preventable. At the moment, there are many researchers and organizations that are doing their best to understand exactly why disparities exist in the first place and how to address them. The fight to eliminate health disparities will continue until everyone has the access to health care that they need. Keep in mind that some need more health care than others, this is why we are not striving for health equality, rather for health equity.
If you are interested in learning more about health disparities, I invite you to peruse the following sites:
— by Alma