SPRINGFIELD – In an effort to raise awareness and address health disparities among minorities, Gov. Rod Blagojevich proclaimed April as Minority Health Month.
“It is important that the United States has a strong and successful health care system that benefits all citizens equally regardless of race, gender, and ethnicity,” the Governor’s proclamation reads. “Significant health disparities, including differences in the incidence, prevalence, and mortality rate exist among minority groups for preventable health conditions and diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and infant mortality. Although the health status of all Illinois citizens has improved over the last decade, there is still work to be done to ensure that all men and women receive the care necessary to eliminate health disparities among our minority populations.”
Minority Health Month is a 30-day health promotion and disease prevention campaign. Partnerships between health care, community-based, and faith-based organizations are essential in promoting a healthy lifestyle, providing resources to individuals, and educating the public about health disparities and what they can do to improve minority health year-round.
The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) will sponsor or co-sponsor approximately 60 events and activities throughout the state during Minority Health Month. Some of the events include free and anonymous HIV testing, health fairs/seminars, and workshops addressing diabetes, depression, substance abuse, domestic violence, breast and cervical cancer, Hepatitis C and obesity.
“I encourage our minority citizens to attend one or more of these events in their area and to make a commitment to improve ones health,” said Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, state public health director. “Taking better care of our health benefits not only ourselves, but our family and community.”
The Mississippi River District United Methodist Project in the Metro East is one of many faith-based organizations partnering with the state to get the message out about minority health disparities.
“Educating the community about what health issues plague our population is the first step in creating change and improving the health of our citizens,” said Rev. Dr. Beverly Wilkes, CEO, Mississippi River District United Methodist Project.
Gov. Blagojevich and various state agencies are addressing health disparities in the following ways:
- Last year, 44 percent of the 19,000 women served by the Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program were minorities. The program offers free breast and cervical cancer screenings to low-income women between the ages of 35 and 64 who have no health insurance. Since taking office, the governor has added $4 million in state funding to support breast and cervical cancer screening and education.
- The Women’s Health Initiative Grant Program reached more than 13,500 women and a third of the grant participants were minority women. The program offers women an opportunity to become involved in educational programs that address heart disease, osteoporosis, menopause and eating disorders.
- More than 20 mini-grants targeted to minority populations including African American, Hispanic and Asian women for the creation of walking programs and health awareness events to improve the health and wellness of minority women in Illinois.
- The Blagojevich administration championed the idea of partnerships and reaching out to non-traditional organizations or faith-based groups, which include predominately minority members. One example is the Stand Against Cancer Program. Gov. Blagojevich invested 4 million new dollars to address minority health disparities by creating the Stand Against Cancer Program. Stand provides community outreach, education services, and breast and cervical cancer screenings to women of color through a network of federally qualified health centers, community based organizations and faith-based programs. The initiative has produced 27 educational seminars, and 357 community members have been reached through education and outreach, while 7,500 women have received breast and cervical cancer screenings. In fiscal year 2005, Gov. Blagojevich bolstered funding to $3.15 million for HIV services targeting minority populations The Illinois Department of Public Health’s Center for Minority Services offers several HIV/AIDS and breast and cervical cancer programs specifically targeting communities of color. Studies indicate that African Americans and Hispanics represent less than a third of the state’s population, yet they comprise more than 60 percent of those diagnosed with AIDS and 61 percent of HIV cases.
- Gov. Blagojevich fulfilled his pledge to increase funding for the Department of Public Health’s AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) by adding $3.15 million to expand and improve the program. An average of 3,200 HIV-infected clients are served each month. The increased funds expanded the number of medications available this year from 74 to 80. Slightly more than 5,000 clients are enrolled in the program and 65 percent of those are minorities. Illinois is one of half the states that does not have a waiting list to participate.
- The three-year average infant mortality rate among African-American infants in Illinois is 16.67 deaths per 1,000 live births. That is more than double the rate of White infants. The Illinois Department of Human Services is making strides in addressing this disparity by overseeing state programs aimed at reducing the state’s infant mortality rate, including Family Case Management and WIC (Special Supplement Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children). The program identifies women early in pregnancy and assists them with finding health care and other services while helping them follow a healthy diet and encourage them to avoid health risks such as smoking. Studies have found that infants born to women who participate in the two programs have lower rates of premature birth, low birth weight and infant mortality. Health care expenditures during the first year of life are more than 40 percent less. The Chicago Healthy Start Initiative serves seven- inner city Chicago communities that traditionally have had high infant death rates. The program consists of intensive case management and provides resources for prenatal care, substance abuse prevention and family support. And, the Illinois Department of Public Aid is working in partnership with DHS on a project known as "Closing the Gaps," which addresses racial health disparities at birth. The greatest health disparity between African Americans and Caucasians occurs at birth. This project targets an area in Chicago with some of the poorest birth outcomes.
- The Illinois Prostate and Testicular Cancer Program promotes education and awareness to all citizens with an emphasis on the high-risk population including African-American men. The program awards grants to provide education, awareness, and prostate cancer screenings to targeted communities. The incidence rate for African-American men is 60 percent higher than for Caucasian men and the mortality rate for black men is double that of white men. This program aims to close that gap.
An IDPH calendar will be sent out to selected organizations detailing Minority Health Month events, messages from Dr. Whitaker and health tips regarding Breast and Cervical Cancer, HIV/AIDS, Prostate Cancer and the State of Illinois AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP). The calendars are also available by calling 217-785-4311 or you can access it via the web, www.idph.state.il.us.