The issue of health disparities among African Americans is connected to the disproportionate rate of tobacco-related morbidity and mortality in African American communities. Both problems remain highly conspicuous in Minnesota, which is recognized as one of the nation’s healthiest states.
Gloria Lewis, director of Minnesota’s Office of Minority Health led a discussion on the matter at Nov. 12 Insight/KMOJ Public Policy Forum. Also on the panel were Barry Dunayer of the Minnesota Department of Health, Stephen Foldes, MD of Blue Cross/Blue Shield - Minnesota and tobacco activist and health advocate Laura Waterman Wittstock, founder-president of MIGIZI Communications.
The dilemma of health disparities extends across America. It’s grown so prevalent that the Office of Minority Health was created by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 1985 as a result of the Report of the Secretary’s Task Force on Black and Minority Health. The Office of Public Health and Science continues to examine issues affecting African Americans, Native Americans and Hispanic Americans as well as Alaska Natives, Asian Americans and Native Hawaiians. Despite the virtual epidemic of disparity nationwide, Minnesota, as Lewis noted, is only the second state to receive moneys from its legislature to close the gap between health care as afforded people of color and health care as is provided the mainstream populace. Of paramount concern is to what appropriate use and productive consequence those funds are being put.
“We do not have critical masses of people of color in the state of Minnesota.” Lewis stated. “We’re 11 percent. [But] we have the ability to change this issue of health disparity in Minnesota and in the nation. We have to be very loud about saying our health is as important as anyone else who walks the face of the earth.”
Drawing a connection to the tobacco issue, Lewis said, “We have to look at [it] in a holistic manner. We have to hold our state responsible because public health is about the public. You don’t segment out certain groups and say, ‘They’re not the public because they’re only 11 percent.’ We are the public.”