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April 9, 2008 > Minority Health Month Focuses on Disparities - Race Plays a Role in Disease Outcomes

Minority Health Month Focuses on Disparities - Race Plays a Role in Disease Outcomes

Life expectancy and overall health have improved for most Americans in the last decade. Advances in medicine have increased survival rates for cancer and other serious diseases and made chronic diseases like diabetes much easier to manage. But for racial and ethnic minorities in the U.S., better health is more elusive.
April is Minority Health Month, designed to raise awareness about the health disparities that exist in this country. Despite notable progress in the overall health of our nation, there continues to be a greater burden of illness and death experienced by African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders and other minorities. These disparities are believed to be the result of the complex interaction between genetic variations, environmental factors such as income and living conditions, and specific health behaviors, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities (OMHD), which provided the statistics for this article.
"When compared to Caucasians, minority groups have a higher incidence of chronic diseases, higher mortality, and poorer health outcomes," said Dr. Hoang Trinh, a family practice physician with Washington Township Medical Group. "Socieconomic factors are one of the biggest barriers for these minority groups. Although the lack of financial resources is a barrier to access for many Americans, the impact on access appears to be greater for minority populations, many of whom are uninsured. These patients are more likely to go without needed medical care, more likely go without prescription medicines, and are more likely to use emergency rooms as their regular source of care. They are not getting the necessary health screenings and basic vaccinations that are vital for disease prevention. Language is another huge barrier for minority groups. Someone who doesn't speak English may be more reluctant to go to the doctor. They may also have problems obtaining, processing, and understanding basic health information."
Higher Death Rates
Cardiovascular disease, primarily heart disease and stroke, causes more deaths in Americans of all racial and ethnic groups than any other disease. Yet African Americans face an even bigger burden, with heart disease death rates more than 40 percent higher than for whites. African Americans have the highest rate of high blood pressure - a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease - of all groups and tend to develop it younger.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death and African Americans face a death rate for all cancers that is 30 percent higher than that for whites. For prostate cancer, the death rate is more than double that for whites.
While deaths caused by breast cancer have decreased among white women, African-American women continue to have higher rates of mortality for breast cancer despite having similar mammography screening rates. Cervical cancer rates for Vietnamese women are nearly five times the rate for whites.
Chronic diseases like diabetes also impact minorities harder. Diabetes rates for American Indians and African Americans, for example, are more than twice that for whites. Hispanics are almost twice as likely to die from diabetes than are whites.
While the nation's infant mortality rate is down, the infant death rate for African Americans and American Indians is double that of whites. The death rate for HIV/AIDS for African Americans is more than seven time that for whites.
"Part of the issue is lack of diversity in the healthcare workforce," Trinh said. "There aren't enough providers who speak other languages and understand some of the cultural barriers."
While Trinh's practice includes a diverse patient group, he doesn't see these kinds of health disparities in his practice because most of his patients have medical coverage and there is a diverse group of providers in the Tri-City area, he said.
"In many minority communities, there are a limited number of primary care providers, specialists and diagnostic facilities," Trinh said. "That makes it hard to get treatment in a reasonable time period."
To learn more about minority health issues, visit www.cdc.gov/omhd.
For more information about other Washington Hospital programs and services, visit www.whhs.com.

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