April is National Minority Health Month, and this year’s theme is “Give Your Community a Boost!” The focus of the theme is to highlight the importance of COVID-19 vaccinations to help end the pandemic, which disproportionately impacted traditionally marginalized and underserved populations.
At DHEC, we recognize that where we live impacts our health and the health of our communities, and we are committed to working with our partners to make our communities healthier, stronger, and safer for everyone. That’s why we are focused on increasing awareness of the important work being done in our communities to eliminate health disparities.
On April 8, 2022, in conjunction with National Public Health Week, Dr. Simmer announced that we will expand our own work as well as partnerships with community members and organizations to eliminate health disparities in our state to give all South Carolinians an opportunity to attain optimal health outcomes. The agency’s announcement comes as the state prepares to move from COVID-19 as a pandemic to an endemic.
“Long-standing health disparities were highlighted in South Carolina and across the United States by COVID-19’s devastating and disproportionate impact on many in our communities,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC Public Health Director. “Also emphasized was the strength of our people to come together and take swift actions to address inequities and protect one another. It is incumbent on all of us not to lose sight of this momentum and continue the hard work to resolve inequities that limit our state’s health outcomes whether they are related to race, ethnic group, gender, socioeconomic status, or any other factor.”
Early in the pandemic, local and national data show that African Americans and other minority populations were not only disproportionately impacted by this disease, but also had lower rates of vaccination against COVID-19. Specifically, in March 2021, the Black and Hispanic populations had lower vaccination rates when compared to the White population (7% and 11% lower, respectively).
Recognizing the seriousness of this issue, DHEC, working with external partners like the NAACP, AME Church, Latinx media outlets, and many other faith-based and community service organizations focused on resolving this disparity. The intent of this work was to enhance local efforts by working with local partners who know and are trusted by their communities and can help public health officials identify where people are and get the vaccine out as quickly and equitably as possible while maximizing the current supply of doses, which were initially limited. The result of these efforts are African Americans and Hispanics are now more likely to be vaccinated than other groups in South Carolina.
“While we have come a long way in our work toward our vision of South Carolina as a state where healthy people – people of all races and ethnicities, ages, and genders, and across all parts of our great state – live in healthy communities, there are still significant disparities in health outcomes across our state,” said DHEC Director Edward Simmer, MD, MPH, DFAPA. “I am convinced that by working together with our many outstanding partners and involving community members themselves we can eliminate the disparities present in our state today and provide a healthier future for all South Carolinians.”
DHEC’s various divisions and programs are working with partners to address health inequities across our state. Some of that work includes efforts to reduce infant and maternal mortality, promote quality care for those who require nursing care and related medical services, ensure women have access to age-appropriate breast and cervical cancer screening and follow up, and mitigate the environmental impact of hurricanes and other disasters on local communities.
DHEC’s Public Health (PH) division also has established an Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). PH’s DEI Office provides knowledge, skills, resources, and technical assistance to support efforts to promote an inclusive and equitable environment and services that value and leverage the diversity of all Public Health staff, partners, and South Carolina communities.
Click here for additional information about DHEC and our partners work around health disparities in South Carolina. To read what community leaders across the state of South Carolina are saying, click here.