May 06, 2020

Dean’s Message: Our Commitment to Addressing Health Disparities

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We know that racial and socioeconomic disparities for health and health care exist in this country. In fact, there are many exceptional physicians and researchers here at UAB who are exploring why those disparities exist and how they can be lessened. But sadly, this pandemic has exposed just how deadly the consequences of health disparities can be.

A couple of weeks ago with the support of 13 other African-American medical leaders, I penned an opinion editorial for USA Today describing how African-Americans are dying from COVID-19 at significantly higher rates than white Americans. You can read more about the disheartening statistics in the full editorial here. Unfortunately, there are many reasons why these disparities exist, which include but are not limited to unequal access to primary care, housing, education, and healthy food options. Each of these inequalities poses a threat not only to the lives of African-Americans but also to the integrity of our entire health-care system, and since we at UAB seek to lead the way into the future of medicine, we cannot turn a blind eye to these glaring problems.

As I stated in a recent article for the AAMC, tackling this challenge begins in our classrooms where we must ensure that our medical students complete their education with a deep awareness and understanding of health disparities. Moreover, we want to present them with opportunities to be a part of research and action that is currently taking place to eliminate those disparities. Fortunately, since UAB is home to the Minority Health & Health Disparities Research Center (MHRC), there are a number of exceptional research initiatives and trainings already taking place on campus. In fact, our very own Dr. Mona Fouad, who co-directs the MHRC, recently launched Live HealthSmart Alabama—developed through the UAB Grand Challenge initiative. Live HealthSmart seeks to move Alabama out of the lowest tier for health outcomes by working with the community to identify and address policies, systems, and environments that are leading to disparities in health care. Additionally, Dr. Luciano Costa from the Division of Hem Onc, recently published an article in The Lancet discussing disparities and biases in clinical trials. It is an outstanding story, and I encourage you all to read it.

I know we have a long way to go in our journey towards a health-care system that works equally for all, and for those of you who have been alarmed by recent headlines, I want you to remember there is hope. I am proud that our UAB community is at the forefront of these efforts, and we will continue to invest in research initiatives like Live HealthSmart Alabama. When we improve health care for one at-risk group, we are ultimately generating better health outcomes for all. We must utilize this challenging and troubling moment to identify our opportunities to make an impact, and then we must work together to build something better every day.