South Carolina working to improve minority health

 By Jade N. Durham, MPH
CLAS / Cultural Competence Consultant

SC DHEC – Office of Minority Health

Lots of variables go into determining the quality of health a person enjoys —where they live, work and play, their income, their education, their place of birth. And let’s not forget the choices they make about what they eat and whether they exercise or see a doctor regularly.

All those things are linked to health disparities among racial and ethnic minorities in our state and across America. It is critical that we address inequities in health and health care, which is why the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) has placed special emphasis on that area. It’s also why each April is designated as National Minority Health Month.

DHEC’s Office of Minority Health, established in June 1990, is charged with improving the health of racial and ethnic minority populations in South Carolina in an effort to achieve health equity. The office provides technical assistance and consultation to internal and external partners across the state to assist in developing policies and programs aimed at eliminating health disparities.

South Carolina is making progress

While South Carolina still has work to do, it has made some significant strides in improving minority health in a number of areas. Just consider some of the improvements made in the health of African-Americans, the state’s largest minority population. From 1999 to 2014:

  • Cancer death rates among African-American men fell 34 percent.
  • Breast cancer death rates among African-American women fell nearly 21 percent.
  • HIV death rates among African-Americans fell 54 percent.
  • Reported HIV cases among African-American women fell nearly 63 percent.
  • Heart disease death rates for African-American men decreased 32 percent and heart disease death rates among African-American women dropped 37 percent.
  • The prevalence of diabetes in African-American women decreased 47 percent.
  • Infant mortality trends are decreasing and the gap between African-Americans and whites has narrowed.

Still more work to be done

Despite our state’s noteworthy progress in narrowing health disparity gaps for several health concerns, many challenges remain. While stroke, heart disease and diabetes have been declining statewide and nationally, death and illness among African-Americans continue to be cause for concern.

  • The gap in heart disease mortality between African-Americans and whites has been persistent over time. Heart disease death rates were higher among African-American males followed by white males, then African-American females and lastly white females.
  • Approximately one in six African-American adults has diabetes, compared to one in nine white adults.
  • In 2014, the age-adjusted HIV death rate for African-American males is almost 9 times higher than the rate for white males.
  • There are more African Americans living with HIV than whites in South Carolina.

Gaps in the health status and well-being of various communities affect all Americans, and improving the health of all communities has a number of benefits:

  • It is a matter of life and death for those who suffer with chronic and other diseases.
  • It reduces health care costs, which translates into a stronger economy and a more productive, competitive America.
  • It builds a stronger foundation for our nation’s increasingly diverse populations to prosper for generations to come.

DHEC, the Office of Minority Health and various other public and private partners continue to collaborate to improve these outcomes.

This month, the Office of Minority Health has been shining a light on National Minority Health Month. On April 1, it collaborated with the University of South Carolina Institute for Partnerships to Eliminate Health Disparities to sponsor the 2016 Clyburn Health Disparities Lecture; Dr. Camara P. Jones was the keynote speaker. On April 27, the Office, in collaboration with the Office of Staff Training and Development, held a professional development workshop for DHEC staff focusing on the topics of health equity, health disparities and diversity.

For more information on National Minority Health Month and how you can get involved, visit www.minorityhealth.hhs.gov/NMHM16.

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