By Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, M.D.
Each year in April, the Office of Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) leads our sister HHS agencies in commemorating National Minority Health Month. This year’s theme, “Partnering for Health Equity,” is a sustainable message which we not only recognize this month but also put into practice all year long through our research, training, and outreach programs and activities.
Over the last two and a half years, I have been leading this Institute in research to improve minority health and reduce health disparities in the U.S., as well as help guide other NIH Institutes and Centers on these issues. Our country is often described as a melting pot—representing people from all over the world. However, our research does not reflect the culture. We are continually trying to raise the bar.
NIMHD’s commitment to funding multi-faceted minority health and health disparities research—and supporting underrepresented minority researchers—continues to address the gaps in access to high-quality health care, inclusion in research, and advancing knowledge of issues which affect minorities. Our work in these areas, along with other NIH Institutes and Centers, aims to improve the health of our nation, which is reflected in the health of all populations.
National Minority Health Month provides not only a platform for our mission, but it is also a chance for us to raise the flag for health equity together with our stakeholders, including researchers, public health advocates, and community leaders. NIMHD has the esteemed honor of developing, shaping, and influencing the science of minority health and health disparities. In doing so, we are moving toward touching the lives of those burdened by health disparities. The objective this month is to join forces in efforts to improve access to high-quality health care and advance the health of everyone—through research which reflects the populations we serve.
Through our research collaborations across NIH and externally, we are addressing diseases that disproportionately impact health disparity populations, such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Supporting efforts like the NIH All of Us Research Program is one way that we can help address these health problems. The All of Us Research Program is a historic effort to engage one million or more people in research. This program will allow us to gather information to improve our ability to treat and prevent disease based on individual differences in lifestyle, environment, and genetics. These and other factors, known as the social determinants of health, are essential to understanding the complexity of disease and identifying the most effective prevention and treatment strategies. NIMHD joins this effort to promote inclusion of populations historically underrepresented in biomedical research.
Through partnerships like the NIH Minority Health and Health Disparities Strategic Plan, which is currently under development, we look forward to designing specific goals to address innovative research approaches, training to build the next generation of researchers in minority health and health disparities, capacity-building for research institutions focusing their efforts on minority health and health disparities, and inclusion of diverse populations in research studies. We also aim to build upon the community of scholars, advocates, and others interested in promoting health equity.
NIMHD also partners with other NIH Institutes and Centers to enhance diversity in our biomedical workforce. For example, NIMHD actively participates with the NIH Medical Research Scholars Program (MRSP). MRSP is a year-long research enrichment program designed to attract medical, dental, and veterinary students with strong research interests to NIH. The goal of our partnership is to introduce the MRSP to students from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds and encourage them to consider biomedical research careers.
Our partnerships with external groups provide opportunities to promote health in communities across the nation.
We collaborate with the Omega Psi Phi fraternity on a program called Brother You’re On My Mind (BYOMM). Encompassing workshops, community events, media engagement, and our BYOMM toolkit (which can be found on our website) allows us to help start conversations about mental health in African American men. NIMHD is proud to support this endeavor to help bring awareness of the mental health challenges associated with stress and depression.
We also partner with the GENYOUth Foundation on their program, Fuel Up to Play 60 en Español that is designed to educate Latino students, parents, and communities about the importance of healthy eating and physical activity, create healthier school environments, empower students to choose more healthy foods, and encourage students to be active for at least 60 minutes everyday.
Collaboration and partnership are at the core of NIMHD’s mission, and we look forward to continuing our efforts with NIH Institutes and Centers, HHS agencies, and our external stakeholders as we work together to advance health equity for all populations.