Celebrating National Minority Health Month

J. Nadine Gracia | 4/12/2012, 4:01 p.m.

In April 1915, Dr. Booker T. Washington dispatched a letter to the leading African-American newspapers, proposing the observance of "National Negro Health Week." Health was the key to progress and equity in all other things, he argued: "Without health and long life, all else fails." He called on local health departments, schools, churches, businesses, professional associations, and the most influential organizations in the African-American community to "pull together" and "unite... in one great National Health Movement."

That observance grew into what is today a month-long initiative to advance health equity across the country on behalf of all racial and ethnic minorities - National Minority Health Month.

This April, as we commemorate National Minority Health Month, we also celebrate another milestone in health equity: the one-year anniversary of the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) first-ever Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities . Through the HHS Disparities Action Plan, we are transforming health care by reducing disparities in health insurance coverage and access to primary care services; we are strengthening the health and human services' workforce by improving the cultural competency and increasing the diversity of the public health and health care workforces; we are advancing the health and well-being of the American people by investing in community-based programs to reduce disparities; and we are advancing scientific knowledge by conducting research and implementing new data collection standards to better understand health disparities and design effective programs to reduce disparities.

April also marks the one-year anniversary of the National Partnership for Action's National Stakeholder Strategy for Achieving Health Equity, a nationwide, community-driven approach to eliminate health disparities. In the past year, 10 community-led Regional Health Equity Councils formed across the country to serve as catalysts for action on health equity in their communities and to help close the health gap in the United States.

These initiatives build on the Affordable Care Act, the landmark health care law signed by President Obama two years ago. The new health care law sets forth one of the most significant policies to reduce health disparities in our nation's history, and already millions of Americans -- including racial and ethnic minorities -- are benefitting from the new law.

Nearly 100 years after Dr. Washington's call for unity, we look at how far we have come and the opportunity before us to build on his legacy. That is why we designated the theme for this year's Minority Health Month "Health Equity Can't Wait: Act Now in Your CommUNITY!" - a call to action for stakeholders everywhere, because the time to make progress in health equity and health disparities and

history won't wait.

Throughout this month, we invite communities across the country to join us in celebrating Minority Health month by holding local events that raise awareness about health disparities, highlight successes, and share solutions to common challenges. To find out more, visit http://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/actnow/.

Dr. Gracia is deputy assistant secretary for Minority Health (Acting).