Media contact: Adam Pope
There have long been significant differences in health across race, income, education and geographic location. In Alabama and in the Deep South, the impact of these differences is seen everywhere, from the state’s largest cities to its most rural areas.
For 20 years, the University of Alabama at Birmingham Minority Health & Health Disparities Research Center has taken a comprehensive, science-first approach to improve the health of people in historically under-resourced areas — with efforts in research, training and community engagement.
The inspiration came on a bus ride through the Mississippi Delta.
“We passed by these tiny houses, and in front of one were maybe eight or nine children,” said Mona Fouad, M.D., director of the Minority Health & Health Disparities Research Center. “I thought, if we tell a woman living there to get a mammogram, how is she even going to get there? What other health issues does she face? What about her children? We can’t just tell her to get a mammogram and ignore everything else.”
After returning from that trip, Fouad, Ed Partridge, M.D., former director, and Selwyn Vickers, M.D., former Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine dean, recognized that, while genetics, biology and personal choices play a significant role in health and illness, so does a person’s everyday circumstance. Addressing these disparities in a meaningful way would require a holistic approach.
And in 2002, the Minority Health & Health Disparities Research Center was born.
Through National Institutes of Health- and Centers for Disease Control-funded projects, the MHRC has been at the forefront of health disparities research, generating more than $165 million to address such inequities. Additionally, since its inception, the center has provided nearly $7 million in funding to 146 health disparity scientists.
To build the pathway of future researchers, the MHRC’s training programs have welcomed generations of new scientists to the field. Leveraging strong, enduring partnerships with other institutions — including several historically Black colleges and universities — the MHRC has been able to reach more than 1,000 scholars at the undergraduate, graduate, postdoctoral and faculty levels.
As is the trust built within academia, the MHRC’s relationships with partner communities and organizations are critical to the center’s success. Since the beginning, a guiding principle of the MHRC has been that research should be grounded in trusting, respectful and mutually beneficial relationships that last beyond one project. Facilitating those partnerships is the center’s team of community engagement professionals who nurture relationships with nearly 200 partners and 100 advisory board members.
While the work conducted by the Minority Health & Health Disparities Research Center has been remarkable, it is not done.
“We’ve made great strides in understanding the underlying causes of health disparities,” Fouad said. “But, looking to the future, we need to move beyond documenting and understanding disparities. We need to achieve health equity for all populations.”
With that vision of the future, the MHRC has changed its name to the UAB Minority Health & Health Equity Research Center.
To celebrate 20 years of milestones, the MHERC has put together a monthlong celebration that starts with programming for each of its focus areas and ends with the culmination of each of these pillars within the center’s Grand Challenge-winning program, .
Each week, the center will spotlight one of its pillars with a video, social media giveaway and special edition email.
Health is a complex mix of genetics, biology, personal choices, environment and lived experience. As the Minority Health & Health Equity Research Center embarks on its next phase, it calls on all community members to work together to make health equity a reality.